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Nov 8, 7:49 AM EST

Dutch prosecutors urge life sentence for Ethiopian crimes

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Dutch prosecutors urge life sentence for Ethiopian crimes

FBI Preliminary Crime Report, Jan.-June 2005

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Dutch prosecutors called for a life sentence Wednesday for a former member of an Ethiopian Marxist regime who is charged with involvement in the torture and murder of political prisoners in the 1970s.

The suspect, 63-year-old Eshetu Alemu, last week accepted blame for the crimes of the regime known as the Dergue nearly 40 years ago, but told judges in The Hague he did not carry out the war crimes for which Dutch prosecutors hold him responsible.

But in their closing statement to the district court in The Hague, prosecutors insisted Alemu is guilty and called on the judges to convict him and hand down the maximum possible sentence.

"This case is a litany of deliberately inflicted horrors," prosecutors said in a written statement. "The suspect decided about the life or death of people."

Defense attorneys are scheduled to make submissions Monday and a verdict is expected before the end of the year.

The Dergue was led by former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who now lives in exile in Zimbabwe. Mengistu was convicted in absentia by an Ethiopian court in 2006 of genocide and later sentenced to death.

Some experts say 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by Mengistu's regime known as the Red Terror, though no one knows for sure how many suspected opponents were killed. Human Rights Watch has described the 1977-78 campaign as "one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by a state ever witnessed in Africa."

Alemu moved to the Netherlands in the early 1990s and was granted Dutch citizenship in 1998.

Prosecutors say the case is intended to show that suspected war criminals will be prosecuted in Dutch courts and to achieve belated justice for victims and their families, some of whom were in court last week and made emotional victim impact statements.

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