PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) _ An apartheid assassin lashed out at former President F.W. de Klerk in court Wednesday, calling the Nobel Peace Prize winner a coward.

Former police Col. Eugene de Kock is facing sentencing for his conviction on 89 charges including six murders.

``I regard F.W. de Klerk as the biggest coward,'' de Kock said of the former president, who led South Africa from 1989 until the nation's first all-race election in 1994 that ended apartheid.

De Klerk is credited with launching reforms that legalized anti-apartheid groups such as the African National Congress, freed political prisoners including Nelson Mandela and started talks that led to the historic vote and the end of National Party rule.

De Klerk actions to end legalized racial discrimination has been condemned by many white extremists.

De Kock accused de Klerk of abandoning apartheid police and soldiers, saying: ``My opinion is that F.W. de Klerk totally abdicated. The day he unbanned the (anti-apartheid) organizations he was no longer in control.''

De Klerk said a small element in the police and military had always worked against change in South Africa.

``I believe in what I did, and I believe in what I am doing, and it doesn't really impress me when people call me names,'' he told The Associated Press in Cape Town.

Still the leader of the National Party, de Klerk gave up his deputy president post and pulled the party out of Mandela's power-sharing government earlier this year to concentrate on an opposition role.

De Kock, 47, faces possible multiple life sentences for his convictions last month on the scores of crimes committed while he ran a notorious government hit squad out of a farm near Pretoria.

He chose to speak for the first time in his 18-month trial at the pre-sentencing hearing that began Monday. In his testimony, de Kock implicated former President P.W. Botha, de Klerk's predecessor, in ordering bombings and other attacks on ANC targets at home and abroad, and named former top generals who he said knew about widespread corruption in the police department.

De Kock hopes for leniency and also will seek amnesty.