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Guatemala's ex-strongman goes on trial for genocide


Guatemala City, Mar 19 (EFE).- The genocide trial of former strongman Gen. Efrain Rios Montt began Tuesday inside a packed courtroom in the Guatemalan capital.

The erstwhile dictator made yet another attempt to delay the process by discarding his four-man legal team in favor of a new attorney.

Judge Jazmin Barrios not only ordered the trial to proceed, but booted Rios Montt's new lawyer, Francisco Garcia, from the courtroom and barred him from the case after he demanded she recuse herself.

Garcia argued that he and the judge are "enemies," citing clashes in a previous case.

Barrios, however, said the earlier disagreements had been resolved and denied any bad blood between her and the attorney.

When Garcia persisted with his demand for recusal, the judge threw him out of the courtroom and instructed the attorneys representing Rios Montt's co-defendants to serve as the former autocrat's counsel for the duration of Tuesday's hearing.

Barrios left open the possibility that Rios Montt could reinstate one of the four lawyers he fired earlier Tuesday.

Outside the courtroom, Garcia told reporters he plans to pursue his demand for Barrios to be removed from the case.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled in January that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Rios Montt and retired Gen. Jose Mauricio Rodriguez for the killings of 1,771 Ixil Indians between March 1982 and August 1983.

Rios Montt, 86, is accused of masterminding the bloodbath, while the 67-year-old Rodriguez is charged with carrying out the mass killings as a part of a "scorched earth" campaign during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.

The trial marks the first time any Guatemalan ruler has been called to account for the massacres and atrocities of the civil war.

Rios Montt presided over the bloodiest phase of a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives. Most of the dead were Indian peasants slaughtered by the army and its paramilitary allies.