Trial opens for French mercenary accused of coup attempt

Former French mercenary Bob Denard and 26 others went on trial in a Paris court for a 1995 coup attempt on the Comoros Islands, which Denard ruled for 11 years.

Denard, 76, staged a coup in 1978 while head of the powerful Comoran presidential guard, and ruled the Indian Ocean nation through figurehead presidents until the French forced him out in 1989.

Denard, whose real name is Gilbert Bourgeaud, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments, and was not required to attend – although he was on hand for the start of the proceedings yesterday.

The court rejected an effort by civil parties to the case seeking to require Denard to attend the trial, which is expected to last until March 15.

Denard, wearing a houndstooth jacket and glasses, left the courtroom after the criminal court upheld a medical exam in January that paved the way for him to sit out the proceedings.

He briefly ruled the former French colony again after toppling the government September 27, 1995, but French paratroopers arrested him a week later, citing a defence accord between France and Comoros. He was freed from a Paris prison in 1996.

The defendants on trial are accused of that coup attempt, and each faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of criminal association.

Denard, once considered France’s top gun-for-hire, led uprisings in Nigeria, Angola, Iran, Yemen and the Belgian Congo. He has said France often covertly supported his actions.

This week is not the first time Denard has faced French justice. He was tried and acquitted in 1999 of the assassination of Comoros President Ahmed Abdallah, who was shot dead in his office in Moroni, the capital, in 1989, while Denard led the presidential guard.

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