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Trial for S. Africa's Botha delayed until June 1

April 16, 1998
Web posted at: 1:55 p.m. EDT (1755 GMT)

GEORGE, South Africa (CNN) -- The trial of apartheid-era South African President P.W. Botha, charged with contempt for ignoring a subpoena to appear before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was postponed Thursday until June 1 to give prosecutors more time to gather evidence.

Prosecutors asked for the delay so documents could be presented to defense lawyers. The documents indicate that the State Security Council Botha headed authorized the killing of black activists.

The postponement was granted against the wishes of Botha. One of his attorneys, Lappe Laubscher, told the court that the delay was "totally unacceptable because it will result in untested allegations being sent out into the world."

Botha, who is 82, was overheard telling Laubscher that he thought the case should proceed. "This case was set down for four days. Come, let's go on," Botha said.

The postponement followed the testimony of truth commission Executive Secretary Paul van Zyl, who said the panel wanted Botha to appear to answer charges that his government knowingly committed human rights abuses in its efforts to maintain apartheid.

The commission wants to establish the chain of command for the ruthless crackdown by police and soldiers believed to have killed, detained and tortured thousands of people.

Botha headed South Africa from 1978 to 1989. He has declined to talk to reporters.

"We know that justice delayed is justice denied, but under the circumstances, I have no option but to postpone," Magistrate Victor Lugaju said.

The case was originally scheduled to end Friday, but delays resulting from last-minute talks between Botha and the commission resulted in the court running out of time.

The court said the next available slot was from June 1 to June 5 and the case would resume then.

If convicted of contempt, Botha could be sentenced to two years in prison and required to pay a fine.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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