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Greek Terror Suspects Hear Their Charges

March 4, 2003

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Prosecutors took six hours to read a year-by-year account of about 2,000 charges against 19 alleged members of Greece’s November 17 terrorist group at their trial Tuesday.

The reading of the indictment was started by Christos Lambrou, the lead prosecutor against the suspected members of the notorious November 17 cell. He grew so hoarse that a deputy prosecutor had to take over.

Three senior judges are handling the trial, which opened Monday in a special bunker-style courtroom in Greece’s main maximum-security prison. The proceedings could last for months.

The radical-nationalist group is blamed for more than 100 bombings, a string of armed robberies and 23 murders since it first struck in 1975 with the slaying of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens.

The group’s other victims included three more American envoys, two Turkish diplomats and prominent Greek business and political figures. Its latest killing was the ambush of a British defense attache in June 2000.

For more than a generation, authorities were unable to make any headway against the group. But a botched bombing last year led to a series of arrests.

The suspects on trial _ 18 men and one woman _ include alleged top hit men and the group’s suspected leader, French-born academic Alexandros Giotopoulos. If convicted, the suspects face life in prison under anti-terrorism laws bolstered before the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Defendants are expected to submit a flurry of objections. They include challenging the legitimacy of the court and the anti-terrorism law used to bring them to trial. ``There will be an avalanche of objections,″ Giotopoulos said.

Several main suspects, not including Giotopoulos, have admitted their guilt, either in statements to police or in letters to Athens newspapers. They claim, however, that their crimes were political. The Socialist government has branded them common criminals.

On Monday, the judges ordered the removal of bulletproof glass that surrounded the suspects after the defendants complained it was unnecessary and hindered them from hearing the proceedings. The steel frame that supported the panels should also be taken down in coming days.

Not all the bloodshed claimed by November 17 will be addressed by the court. A 20-year statute of limitations means some acts _ including the slayings of the CIA station chief and two Greek police officials _ will go unpunished.

One of the oldest cases to be tried _ the 1983 shooting of U.S. Navy Capt. George Tsantes and his Greek driver _ has Giotopoulos as the lone suspect charged.

``Murder is murder,″ his daughter, Stephanie Tsantes, told the Athens daily Eleftherotypia. ``Political differences in a democratic society are resolved through dialogue and elections.″

Under Greek law, victims and their families can petition to have lawyers question defendants. At least 45 foreigners _ more than half Americans _ are expected to use the right.

The groups takes it name from a 1973 student-led uprising that was crushed by Greece’s military leaders. The seven-year dictatorship, which was backed by Washington as a buffer against communism, collapsed in 1974.

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