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Iraq opens trial on former regime officials
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Iraqi High Tribunal opened trial Tuesday on Saddam's former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and his seven codefendants over their alleged roles in the execution of 42 merchants in 1992.

It was the first time that Aziz, 72, who also served as foreign minister in Saddam's regime, appeared in court as a defendant since he turned himself in to U.S. forces two weeks after the invasion in 2003. He has appeared as a witness in earlier trials on former Saddam era officials.

Presiding judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman opened the trial in the fortified Green Zone after several hours delay and then adjourned the trial to May 20 following a 45-minute hearing.

In 1992, 42 Iraqi merchants were accused of hiking food prices in violation of state price controls when Iraq faced U.N. sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion into Kuwait. They were executed hours after the verdict.

Other defendants in the case include Saddam's half brother Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan, interior minister when the executions took place, and Sabaawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a former top security official.

A former finance minister, a central bank governor and two senior Baathist party members also faced the court.

The eighth defendant, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali" who is already on pending death sentence for his role in using poison gas to kill Kurdish villagers in the 1980s, did not show up in the court.

Judge Rahman said Majid submitted a medical certificate to excuse his absence.

The Iraqi High Tribunal was set up after the U.S. invasion in 2003 to try former members of Saddam's government. It has conducted previously three trials against former regime officials, including the Dujal case in which Saddam was convicted of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shiites after a 1982 assassination attempt. Saddam later was executed in December 2006.

(Xinhua News Agency April 30, 2008)

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