Hundreds of lawyers to support Saddam.

Saddam Hussein's Jordan-based defence team said on Monday a convoy of buses is being arranged to transport hundreds of legal experts to Baghdad in a show of support for the ousted Iraqi leader.

Issam Ghazawi, a prominent lawyer and one of the 21-strong defence team hired by Saddam's wife, told Reuters that among the large contingent of lawyers ready to defend Saddam are 700 non Arabs, including 400 Americans and Europeans.

Two hundred legal consultants from across the world have also pledged to help in the case, he said. "More than half of the over 2,000 lawyers volunteering to defend President Saddam are expected to join the trip," Ghazawi said. A meeting in Amman on Wednesday will make the preparations for the overland trip to Baghdad, despite the risk.

Lawyers have voiced fears about their personal safety in Iraq citing remarks by officials who attacked Arabs who defend Saddam as a nationalist hero who fought the Americans.

They also expect to encounter objections by Iraqi lawyers who say existing laws bar foreigners from defending their countrymen in local courts.

The defense team again contacted U.S. officials last week to allow them access to their client. They say past requests have been ignored.

The Iraqi leader, who was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in April 2003, appeared before an Iraqi judge last Thursday to face charges that may lead to a formal indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

He was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing and he refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been charged and read his rights, including a right to legal counsel.

Many lawyers say the trial was a political vendetta by Saddam's political foes and say only an international court would guarantee an impartial and fair hearing.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha Gaddafi, told Saddam's lawyers she wanted to join them after seeing the televised court appearance.

"She expressed her desire to join us in seeking a fair trial for President Saddam away from this sham performance," said Mohammad Rashdan, one of the lawyers hired by Saddam's wife, Sajida Khairallah.

Gaddafi's daughter set up a Libyan team to defend Saddam and pledged to send international law jurists and legalists to advice the defense counsel, Amman-based defense lawyers said.

A team of three Jordanian lawyers have left for Tripoli to meet Aisha Gaddafi, who is said to have a doctorate in international law and runs Libya's largest humanitarian charity.

[Source: Reuters, Amman, 06jul04]

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