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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Pearl trial judge removed
Paramilitary soldiers escort the suspects
The suspects will be tried under tight security
The judge who was due to preside over the trial in Pakistan of the men accused of kidnapping and murdering US journalist Daniel Pearl has been taken off the case.

Daniel Pearl in captivity
Pearl's body has not been found

Defence lawyers argued that the judge was not impartial as he had heard the main suspect, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, confess to the kidnapping at a pre-trial hearing.

This, they said, had effectively turned him into a witness.

The prosecution offered no objection and a new judge is expected to be appointed ahead of the trial on Monday.

Mr Pearl was abducted in January while working on a story about Pakistani militants. A video tape was later delivered to US diplomats showing him being killed.

Inadmissible evidence

Omar Sheikh is being tried along with three other alleged accomplices at Karachi's central prison.

Journalists protest after being refused entry to Central Jail in Karachi
Journalists have been barred from the trial

At the pre-trial hearings in question, he was reported to have made various statements admitting to the abduction, including that whatever he had done had been justified.

The comments were not made under oath and are considered inadmissible.

But lawyer Abdul Waheed Katpar asked for Judge Arshad Noor Khan to be removed because he had heard the statements and could therefore be called as a witness.

Prosecutor Raja Quereshi did not challenge the request, and told the Associated Press news agency he was happy to have a new judge appointed if it would allay the fears of the defence.

Both prosecution and defence lawyers said they hoped the change of judge would not stop the trial beginning on Monday as planned.

But they said it will be up to the new judge to decide.

See also:

09 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case suspect hears testimony
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf says Pearl 'too intrusive'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Chief suspect 'met dead US journalist'
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case extradition 'possible'
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