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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
World media assesses Lockerbie trial

The trial has attracted huge media interest
As the Lockerbie trial got under way in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, reaction in the Arab world, including Libya itself, was muted.

Libyan TV and radio carried brief reports in their bulletins simply saying the trial had begun and that the charges had been read out.

In a commentary on the first day of the trial, Libya highlighted US involvement in the indictment of the suspects.

A flagrant violation of justice

Libyan news agency
The international affairs editor of the state-controlled Libyan news agency Jana - thought by some commentators to speak directly for Libyan leader Col Gaddafi - said "the intensive American attempts to indict the two Libyan suspects force us and the world to wonder ... is the internationally agreed-on court the Scottish court or is it the American State Department?"

The USA's actions were "a flagrant violation of justice and an explicit interference in the competency of the court", the commentary said.

The Iran Daily echoed the theme of US involvement and pointed out that the CIA initially blamed Palestinian groups.

Claims about the suppression of evidence have led to suspicions of Washington's involvement in a cover-up

Iran Daily
It said the CIA blamed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for carrying out the attack with Syrian backing "in revenge for the US shooting down of an Iranian Airbus in the Persian Gulf five months earlier".

"Other claims about the suppression of evidence by the US have led to suspicions of Washington's involvement in a cover-up", it added.

Many of the main European and US newspapers felt the outcome of the trial was still far from certain.

The trial will certainly not clear up all the mysteries of the case

Le Monde
The French Le Monde said the investigations carried out since the extradition of the two suspects were "not conclusive as to a Libyan connection".

"On the contrary, witnesses who accused the two men have since retracted their statements," it adds.

"The trial... will certainly not clear up all the mysteries of the case. Tasked exceptionally with ruling on the culpability of the two presumed perpetrators, will the three Scottish judges ever be able to name the true mastermind behind the attack?" the paper wondered.

The families of the victims fear that the trial may spare possible accomplices within the Libyan regime

Luxembourg's Tageblatt reflected that the families of the victims were afraid that the trial "may spare possible accomplices within the Libyan regime."

"There are many flaws in this eminently complex case involving depositions from some 15,000 witnesses, informers and experts from around the world," said the Belgian Le Soir.

"Did not the Scottish judicial authorities say they also suspected a Palestinian extremist ... on the very day that charges were brought against the two Libyan suspects?"

The Italian La Stampa said a guilty verdict was "far from a foregone conclusion", but already discerned a winner.

The winner is Colonel Gaddafi

La Stampa
"Whatever the outcome of the trial, there's already an assured winner, and it's not the victims' relatives," the paper said.

"The winner is Colonel Gaddafi, who on agreeing to the extradition of the two defendants saw the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations for the past seven years."

Pointing out that Gaddafi "seems convinced that the trial poses little risk to him", the paper said the contents of a letter from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan asking him to agree to the men's extraditions "have remained secret to this day".

"Some of the victims' relatives are convinced that the letter contains a promise that the verdict to be reached at Camp Zeist will not involve the Libyan leader," the paper said.

The International Herald Tribune described the "rich mixture of contrasting cultural traditions" in the high-security courtroom in Camp Zeist.

"The defendants, wearing ceremonial Libyan robes and prayer caps, took their seats before the panel of judges, who wore curly grey wigs and flowing ivory robes emblazoned with red crosses", the paper said.

"The Western spectators rose to their feet as a sign of respect when the judges entered the courtroom. The Libyan spectators rose to their feet when the two accused terrorists walked in."

The New York Times said the trial marked a first in many ways, one of them being the wide attention - "usually associated with the American courts" - that the trial is attracting in Britain.

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