Taylor to reject call for 80-year sentence

AMSTERDAM Tue May 15, 2012 6:37pm EDT

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor looks down as he waits for the start of a hearing to receive a verdict in the court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, April 26, 2012. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor looks down as he waits for the start of a hearing to receive a verdict in the court room of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, near The Hague, April 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor will on Wednesday tell judges he bears no responsibility for atrocities during Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, rejecting the prosecution's demand for an 80-year sentence in a maximum-security British jail.

Taylor, convicted last month of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone's conflict, is the first head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg.

His trial caught the public's attention with its grisly mix of massacres and mutilations committed by drugged child soldiers, and the notorious "blood diamonds" or uncut stones from the conflict zones which supermodel Naomi Campbell described as "dirty little pebbles" when she testified in court.

Taylor and his defense lawyers have characterized the case as a racist sham and a Western conspiracy, led by the United Kingdom and the United States, against black Africans.

The first African leader to stand trial for war crimes, Taylor was charged with 11 counts of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 50,000 people were killed.

The warlord-turned-president was also accused of directing Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in a campaign of terror to plunder Sierra Leone's diamond mines for profit and to obtain weapons.

ACCOMPLICE

Judges found that Taylor was an accomplice to some of the war's worst atrocities, carried out by the RUF militia organization which Taylor helped fund and supply.

But the former Liberian president was acquitted of ordering or planning the atrocities.

No stranger to using the court as a platform, Taylor is likely to deny any blame for the violence in Sierra Leone when he appears before a court in The Hague for a sentencing hearing.

It may well be his last public address to an audience that extends well beyond the courtroom.

The trial and last month's verdict were closely followed by many of those who suffered during the conflicts in the region - and by many of Taylor's supporters in Liberia.

The prosecution has called for Taylor, 64, to serve cumulative terms amounting to 80 years, arguing that his position as president, his level of education, and the duration of the conflict amount to aggravating circumstances.

But the defense has said Taylor's lack of direct criminal involvement, advanced age and the possibility of rehabilitation offered by his religious faith - a former Baptist, he converted to the Jewish faith and receives regular visits from a rabbi in his detention centre - are all mitigating factors.

His defense team called on judges to hand down a "fair and just sentence," without suggesting a specific prison term.

Judges are scheduled to sentence Taylor at the end of the month, after which both sides are likely to lodge appeals.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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