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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 12:33 GMT
Galloway 'fought Saddam tyranny'
Labour MP George Galloway
Mr Galloway strenuously denies claims made in the Daily Telegraph.
George Galloway's libel case against the Daily Telegraph has begun at the High Court with his lawyer stressing the MP's opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Galloway is taking legal action over claims he took 375,000 in oil money from the ex-Iraqi leader's regime.

The newspaper is standing by its right to publish the story.

Opening the case for Mr Galloway, QC Richard Rampton said the MP had long led a campaign against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's government.

The case has taken more than a year to come to court in London.

The MP is no stranger to controversy and was expelled from the Labour Party for his comments about the Iraq war.

When Saddam Hussein was in power, Mr Galloway visited Baghdad and was fiercely criticised for meeting the deposed Iraqi leader.

Public interest?

An American publication, The Christian Science Monitor, also made claims about Mr Galloway receiving money but has since paid him damages and apologised, saying the documents it relied on were false.

The anti-war MP says it was a smear by his enemies.

He has strenuously denied the claims and is suing the Daily Telegraph.

The paper is defending the action, claiming it was entitled to report the allegations in the public interest.

It is using a defence developed in a case involved former Irish premier Albert Reynolds which means the court may have to consider whether it was responsible journalism.

Mr Justice Eady is hearing the case without a jury after a request from the newspaper, which was unopposed by Mr Galloway's lawyers.

It is now expected to last about five days.

'Consistency'

Mr Rampton told the court the Glasgow Kelvin MP's interest in the Middle East dated back to the 1970s.

"One of his interests has been to champion what he sees as the need for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people in the Middle East," he said.

"He has also been a longstanding opponent of tyranny and oppression.

"That has particular reference to this case because one of his targets dating from the Seventies was the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein and his cronies in Iraq.

"He has been entirely consistent about that ever since that date up until the fall of Saddam Hussein more recently.

"He has been the leader of a campaign against the regime and for the sake of the Iraqi people at a time, and through the whole of the period, when Western governments were in great good friendship with Saddam Hussein."

'Passionate'

He explained Mr Galloway had made several visits to Iraq, including bringing a child called Mariam back from a Baghdad hospital to be treated in Britain.

The QC acknowledged the MP was sometimes called colourful or controversial.

"He may prefer it if one called him a passionate character," he said.

"He took a big red London bus from Big Ben to Baghdad and received, as one might expect, a huge welcome from the Iraqi people."

'No admiration'

Mr Rampton said Mr Galloway had only met Saddam on two occasions.

"The first time was in 1994 when, as he himself freely admits, he put his foot in his mouth by making some remarks which were open to interpretation - and needless to say were interpreted - as some kind of fawning praise for Saddam Hussein's personal courage and strength.

"It wasn't what he meant to say, it was not in his mind to say, because he had no respect or admiration for Saddam Hussein whatsoever."

The second time they met was in August 2002 when Mr Galloway wanted to try to persuade Saddam to readmit weapons inspectors.

Saddam Hussein told Mr Galloway he did not have any weapons of mass destruction.

"Mr Galloway did not believe him. As we now know, Saddam Hussein was telling the truth," Mr Rampton added.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why George Galloway has brought the libel case



SEE ALSO:
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'I am victim of smear campaign'
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Interview: George Galloway
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Galloway: Saddam trial US 'sham'
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Galloway cleared on appeal funds
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