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Tariq Aziz trial begins in Iraq

Tariq Aziz. File photo
Tariq Aziz is being tried by the Iraqi High Tribunal

The trial of Iraq's former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz over the deaths of a group of merchants in 1992 has opened in Baghdad.

Mr Aziz and seven other former members of Saddam Hussein's regime are accused of involvement in the execution of about 40 merchants after speedy trials.

One of the co-accused is Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali".

After a brief session the judge adjourned the trial until 20 May, citing Mr al-Majid's absence.

Mr Aziz was present in court for the opening of the trial, which was delayed for several hours for procedural reasons.

Ali Hassan al-Majid is already on death row, having been convicted last year of leading a campaign in the late 1980s in which tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurdish civilians were killed.

TARIQ AZIZ
Born in 1936, near Mosul, northern Iraq
Studied English literature and became a journalist
The most senior Christian in the toppled Saddam Hussein regime
Enlisted US support for war on Iran
Met US President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1984
Was Saddam Hussein's deputy for more than a decade

Another of Mr Aziz's co-accused is Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan.

The executed merchants had been accused of hiking food prices at a time when Iraq was under international sanctions.

Mr Aziz's son, Ziyad, has insisted that his father is innocent in an interview with the BBC.

"He sent me a message through a lawyer saying, don't worry about me, I am strong," Ziyad Aziz said.

"Everybody knows that he was not involved in this thing, but the Iraqi government has accused him and [plans to] put him on trial because of his name, because he is Tariq Aziz.

"Even though he was part of the regime, everybody knows my father was responsible for foreign relations of Iraq and other countries… he was not involved in this thing about the merchants."

Mr Aziz received hospital treatment last year after a fall in prison, while in 2006 he suffered a stroke.

He was taken into custody in April 2003 after he gave himself up to US forces.

Veteran judge

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Tariq Aziz's son Ziyad on his father's trial

The trial is being conducted by the Iraqi High Tribunal, which was set up to try former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

It will be conducted in a similar way to previous cases, with the court first hearing from complainants, then from witnesses, and finally from the defendants, tribunal spokesman Areef Shaheen told the BBC.

Saddam Hussein was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity over the killing of 148 Shia men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt against him.

Judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, an Iraqi Kurd, is presiding at Mr Aziz's trial. He is the same judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death.

Human rights groups have criticised the Iraqi High Tribunal on a range of issues.

Human Rights Watch issued a report into the trial of Saddam Hussein which concluded that the process was flawed and its verdict unsound because of "serious administrative, procedural and substantive legal defects".




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