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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Four weeks after they were arrested on charges of preaching Christianity, eight foreign aid workers, including two Americans, went on trial Tuesday, officials said.

The trial, which Chief Justice Noor Mohamed Saqib said would be closed despite earlier promises that it would be open to the public, was expected to last several days.

Saqib and 14 bearded Islamic clerics met for nearly four hours at the start of the trial. The eight foreign aid workers are expected to be allowed to speak in their own defense.

Saqib would not say when they would be called to the court. He said they would be able to defend themselves, but if they wanted a lawyer one would be provided.

The eight foreigners, who also include four Germans and two Australians, were arrested along with 16 Afghan staff members. The Afghan staff was to be tried separately.

Under Taliban law, the penalty for a foreigner who is caught proselytizing is jail and expulsion. For an Afghan, the penalty is death.

For the parents of the two jailed Americans, Dayna Curry, 29, and Heather Mercer, 24, the wait has been fraught with uncertainty.

On Monday, John Mercer of Vienna, Va., celebrated his birthday quietly while waiting at the U.N. guest house for news about his daughter's fate.

``The only present I want is to have my daughter home,'' he said.

Curry's mother, Nancy Cassell, a teacher from Thompson's Station, Tenn., took comfort in the hope that the ordeal would soon be over.