South Africa's Zuma in new bid to avoid corruption trial

(dpa) - All eyes in South Africa will be riveted Monday on the southern city of Pietermaritzburg, where ruling African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma goes to court to try to avoid a corruption trial that could come between him and the presidency.

On Monday, Zuma will appeal to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to throw out his case for alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in a state arms deal.

He will argue the state did not allow him to make representations about the charges against him before indicting him.

The case is the latest in a string of court actions taken by Zuma to avoid a fresh trial for corruption over South Africa's multibillion-dollar arms buildup in the late 1990s.

The first case against the popular former deputy president was thrown out of the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2006 over delays by the prosecution in presenting evidence.

The National Prosecuting Authority brought the new charges against Zuma in December 2007, a few days after he romped to victory over President Thabo Mbeki in an ANC leadership race.

Zuma's supporters in the ANC and the allied trade union movement and Communist Party claim that the new case is a politically- motivated attempt to prevent the 66-year-old Zulu leader from becoming president in 2009.

The charges against Zuma relate mainly to his relationship with his crooked former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.

Shaik is currently serving a 15-year sentence for corruption and fraud in relation to the arms deal, including soliciting a 500,000-rand-a-year bribe from French arms manufacturer Thint on Zuma's behalf.

Despite the charges, the ANC has named Zuma as the party's candidate to succeed Mbeki when his two terms as president expire at next year's general elections.

The party's leadership and its intensely Zuma-loyal Youth League have also begun a campaign of mass mobilization aimed at convincing the judiciary to dismiss the charges.

In scenes harkening back to Zuma's 2005 trial for rape, the Youth League is planning to bus in supporters from across the country to Pietermaritzburg to root for their man on Monday.

The party has also hardened its pro-Zuma rhetoric. Youth League president Julius Malema recently vowed "to kill" for Zuma, while ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe accused Constitutional Court judges sitting in a Zuma case of "counter-revolutionary" activity.

The ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal province, of which Pietermaritzburg is the capital, have vowed to "shut down" the town for the two days of the trial, while taxi associations have said they will halt all operations and schools will remained closed.

Monday's trial follows a setback for Zuma on Thursday, when South Africa's top court, the Constitutional Court, dismissed his challenges to the validity of search warrants used to net evidence against him.

Yet a defeat in Pietermaritzburg would still not mean the end of Zuma's presidential ambitions. His lawyer Michael Hulley has already said he is will appeal to the Constitutional Court if the court finds against him.

If that fails, Zuma is also likely to seek a permanent stay of prosecution on the basis of the delay in bringing him to trial.

Ahead of Zuma's court appearance former South African President Nelson Mandela warned party members against putting personal interests above the good of the party.

"Do not let individuals, sections, factions or groups consider themselves superior to the organisation," Mandela warned.

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