Wall comes down at N17 trial

Just over 27 years after November 17 launched its trail of blood, killing the CIA bureau chief in Athens, 19 suspected members of the far-left terrorist group appeared in a packed courtroom yesterday on the first day of a trial that is expected to last into the summer. In a foretaste of the flurry of objections that is expected to take up much of the three judges’ time until the actual debate on the suspects’ alleged crimes picks up steam, yesterday’s session focused on the bulletproof glass paneling that boxed in the defendants on the three sides facing the 160-odd lawyers and an audience made up of relatives of the group’s 23 victims, survivors of attacks, 30 observers and 120 journalists. Defense lawyers complained that the more than two-meter-high barrier impeded access to their clients, distorted sound, carried derogatory connotations for the suspects and served no practical purpose as high security outside and inside the Korydallos Prison courtroom meant the defendants felt no threat to their safety. «What is this cage doing in front of us?» asked Ioannis Rahiotis, who represents Alexandros Yotopoulos, the 59-year-old, Paris-born alleged N17 mastermind. «Do we want to show that we are trying wild beasts? This is just a special effect.» Rahiotis argued that the box had been inspired by the Italian Red Brigade trials, when the defendants stood trial in cages. «There is no need for a transfusion of barbarity,» he said. As lawyers representing victims’ families and surviving N17 targets – who have filed civil claims seeking symbolic sums ranging from one to 60 euros – and even prosecutor Christos Lambrou concurred, the group’s alleged chief hit man, 45-year-old beekeeper Dimitris Koufodinas, decided to take part in the proceedings, speaking up for the other suspects. «We cannot hear you,» he told court president Michalis Margaritis, a 64-year-old Athens appeals court judge. «It is even more of a problem for a fellow-defendant of mine who has trouble with his hearing.» Koufodinas was referring to icon painter Savvas Xeros, 41, one of three sons of an Athens Greek Orthodox priest sitting in the dock, who suffered severe head injuries when a bomb accidentally went off in his hands at the end of June, setting off a string of arrests the last of which was in January. «It is a question of dignity,» added Koufodinas, who, since turning himself in at the Athens police headquarters on September 5, has taken on a leading role assuming «political responsibility» for the group’s attacks. Eventually, the judges agreed, decreeing only that a low glass wall should protect the defendants’ backs. The glass will have gone by today, while its steel framework should take five days to remove. Margaritis also notified the 450-odd witnesses, many of whom had turned up for the opening day, that their presence would not be needed until next Tuesday, when the reading of the charges will have finished. «This case is going to take a very long time,» he observed. The court will sit five days a week – despite a defense lawyer’s attempt to secure one day off – from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Among those present were Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni, whose husband was killed by N17 in 1989, and Heather Saunders, wife of the British defense attache killed in 2000.

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