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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006, 04:30 GMT
Saddam trial to resume in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein is absent from his chair in court
The courtroom was much calmer without Saddam and Barzan
Saddam Hussein's trial is set to resume in Baghdad, but it is not clear whether the ex-Iraqi leader will be in court.

He boycotted Wednesday's proceedings along with four of his co-defendants and their defence lawyers.

Their absence meant the courtroom was relatively calm and witness testimony dominated the session. More evidence will be heard on Thursday.

Saddam Hussein and seven others are on trial for the 1982 killings of 148 Shia villagers - charges they deny.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond, at the trial, says it is within the court's power to compel the defendants to attend but the chief judge seemed not to care much whether they were there or not.

Among the missing were the most senior defendants: Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan and ex-judge Awad Hamed al-Bandar.

Their regular defence team was also missing. It wants the Kurdish chief judge to quit, questioning his impartiality because his home town, Halabja, was attacked with poison gas by Iraqi forces in 1988.

A court-appointed defence team has been installed so that the case may continue.

Harrowing

The businesslike court proceedings on Wednesday contrasted with Sunday's, when Saddam Hussein and two other defendants walked out of the courtroom and another was dragged out. The entire defence team subsequently left in protest.

On Wednesday the court heard five prosecution witnesses.

It included some of the most dramatic and harrowing narrative heard in the court so far, from a woman who told how she was arrested by Saddam Hussein's security forces and tortured in prison.

She said she was stripped naked, hung by her feet and kicked repeatedly in the chest by then intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti.

The defendants could face the death penalty if convicted of the killings, which followed an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein in the village of Dujail.



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