World briefs – December 1

A German court put John Demjanjuk on trial Monday to face charges of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews at a Nazi death camp, and his lawyer immediately accused the court of bias.

Demjanjuk trial opens in Germany

MUNICH, Germany — A German court put John Demjanjuk on trial Monday to face charges of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews at a Nazi death camp, and his lawyer immediately accused the court of bias.

The 89-year-old retired Ohio autoworker arrived at the opening of the trial in a wheelchair to face the final chapter of some 30 years of efforts to prosecute him, wearing a navy baseball cap and covered in a light blue blanket.

After the first 90-minute session, Demjanjuk was returned to the courtroom lying flat on his back on a gurney, covered in blankets.

Doctors who had examined Demjanjuk before the second session began said he had complained of serious pain and was given a shot. They ordered the session be cut short, and it wrapped up 30 minutes later.

Demjanjuk’s attorney had opened the proceedings by filing a motion against the court’s judge and prosecutors, accusing them of treating the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk harsher than Germans who ran the Nazi’s Sobibor death camp in occupied Poland.

Lawyer Ulrich Busch charged that the case should never have been brought to trial. He cited cases in which Germans assigned to Sobibor — where prosecutors allege Demjanjuk served as a guard — were acquitted.

“How can you say that those who gave the orders were innocent . . . and the one who received the orders is guilty?” Busch told the court. “There is a moral and legal double standard being applied today.”

Demjanjuk was deported in May from the United States to Germany, and has been in custody since then. He could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

A doctor who examined Demjanjuk two hours before the trial began said his vital signs were all stable.


Minaret ban could be overturned

GENEVA — A Swiss ban on minarets could violate fundamental liberties, Europe’s top human-rights watchdog said Monday in an indication that the heavily criticized vote could be overturned.

The Swiss justice minister also said the European Court of Human Rights could strike down the Sunday vote, which incurred swift condemnation for banning the towers used to put out the Islamic call to prayer.

The 47-nation Council of Europe said that banning “new minarets in Switzerland raises concerns as to whether fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes.” Switzerland presides over the council, which is associated with the European Court of Human Rights. The court rules on breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the ban would come into force immediately, but indicated that it could be overturned.

“The ban contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights,” Zurich daily Blick cited Widmer-Schlumpf as saying.

The referendum backed by nationalist parties was approved by 57.5 per cent of the population Sunday, forcing the government to declare illegal the building of any new minarets in Switzerland. It doesn’t affect the country’s four existing minarets.


Somalian pirates seize oil tanker

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalian pirates seized a tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States in the increasingly dangerous waters off East Africa, an official said Monday, an attack that could pose a huge environmental.

The Greece-flagged Maran Centaurus was hijacked Sunday about 1,300 kilometres off the coast of Somalia, said Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU Naval Force. Harbour said it originated from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and was destined for the United States. The ship has 28 crew members on board, he said.

The shipping intelligence company Lloyd’s List said the Maran Centaurus is a “very large crude carrier, with a capacity of over 300,000 tons.”

Officials could not immediately say how many barrels of oil were on board.

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