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Former Chad leader seeks to annul war crimes court verdict

Former Chad leader wants to annul war crimes verdictFormer Chadian leader Hissene Habre's lawyers on Monday sought to annul his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing irregularities, in the first day of their appeal against the landmark verdict.

Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment in May for ordering killings and torture during his eight-year rule as president of Chad, which ended in 1990. His trial and conviction in Senegal was widely hailed as a moment of hope for African justice.

But Habre's defence lawyers on Monday asked for a new trial, arguing the composition of the jury and other irregularities violated Habre's rights.

"The decisions must be annulled and invalidated," said Habre's lawyer Mounir Ballal. "I am not proud of the conditions in which the accused was tried."

One of the judges did not have the 10 years experience needed to sit on the special tribunal, set up by Senegal and the African Union, defence lawyers said. They say this invalidates the outcome.

However, American lawyer Reed Brody, who worked with Habre's victims for 18 years said the chances of overturning the conviction are very slim.

"I think the defence is grasping at straws," he said.

Habre, who fled to Senegal after being ousted in a coup, was not present for the appeal. The court is expected to give a final decision in April that cannot be reversed.