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Zuma blasts South Africa judiciary for fraud case
South Africa Zuma A 5255680
ANC President Jacob Zuma, center, is seen, prior to appearing in court at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008. Jacob Zuma, the man expected to become South Africa's next president, urged a court on Monday to dismiss corruption and fraud charges against him, as thousands of people rallied outside to support him. - photo by Associated Press
    PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa — Jacob Zuma, the man most likely to be South Africa’s next president, lashed out Tuesday at his treatment during a long-running corruption scandal, and his supporters warned that blood would flow in the streets if Zuma was ever convicted.
    The threats came after a South African judge announced he would rule Sept. 12 whether to dismiss fraud and corruption charges against the 66 year-old president of the ruling African National Congress party.
    Judge Chris Nicholson said if he didn’t throw out the case, then Dec. 8 would be the provisional starting date for Zuma’s criminal trial on charges that he accepted bribes from a French arms company in a multi-billion-rand (dollar) 1999 arms deal.
    Zuma filed to have the charges declared unlawful and unconstitutional, saying they are part of a political conspiracy aimed at thwarting his presidential ambitions. He is already campaigning for elections that must be held by mid-2009, and South Africa’s constitution bars anyone from running for office if they have been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison.
    After a two-day court hearing about the legality of the state’s case, Zuma vowed defiantly outside the court that if he did go to jail, he would not go alone.
    Speaking in Zulu to several thousand supporters, Zuma said if there was a criminal trial he would ‘‘call witnesses,’’ in an apparent reference to his bitter rival, President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki sacked Zuma in 2005 because of the corruption scandal but it has long been rumored that Mbeki was also implicated.
    The Sunday Times last weekend quoted a secret report that Mbeki accepted 30 million rands ($4 million at current rates) from a Germany arms company and gave 2 million rands ($280,000) to Zuma and the rest to the ANC.
    Mbeki’s office has dismissed the report as nonsense.
    ‘‘The truth will be revealed,’’ Zuma said, to chants of ‘‘30 million! 30 million!’’ from the crowd. He later launched into the anti-apartheid song that has become his trademark — ‘‘Bring Me My Machine Gun’’ — and the crowd sang along.
    In addition to his usual bodyguards and armed police, Zuma was flanked by more than a dozen former freedom fighters in camouflage gear.
    He was a leader of the ANC’s military wing in its fight against apartheid and remains immensely popular with former freedom fighters, as well as with disaffected South Africans who still live in poverty 14 years after the end of apartheid.
    ‘‘Our president is the target of a political conspiracy and we are convinced that the conspiracy is led by the state president (Mbeki),’’ the head of the influential ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, told the rally.
    Accompanied by loud cheers, Malema warned the country’s judges to keep their hands off Zuma and demanded that Mbeki stand down immediately and let Zuma take over.
    ‘‘If you touch the old man, you must touch us first. Nobody will arrest Zuma as long as we are alive,’’ Malema said. ‘‘Before you get to him you must kill the youth of this country. We are prepared to die for Zuma.’’
    Blade Nzimande, secretary-general of the Communist Party and a close Zuma ally, also warned that South Africa was heading toward ‘‘the brink.’’
    South Africa, the regional powerhouse, has been a vibrant democracy since the end of apartheid in 1994. But there are growing concerns about Zuma supporters’ inflammatory comments about the integrity of South Africa’s judiciary.
    Zuma has long been under a cloud because of the 1999 French arms deal, but a chief prosecutor decided not to press charges in 2003. Mbeki fired Zuma as the country’s deputy president in 2005, after Zuma’s financial adviser was sentenced to 15 years in jail for trying to elicit bribes from the French company Thint, formerly Thomson CSF.
    New charges were filed against Zuma in 2005, but these were thrown out in 2006 on a technicality.
    Days after Zuma was elected as the ANC’s president last year, the National Prosecuting Authority said it had new evidence, and it filed racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud charges against Zuma regarding the 1999 arms deal.
    The ANC is expected to hold onto its big majority in Parliament during next year’s general election, and Zuma, as its leader, is expected to be the nation’s next president.
    No date has been set for the vote. However, if Zuma does go on trial Dec. 8, the trial could last a long time and throw South Africa’s political landscape into turmoil.
    Still, so far Zuma’s legal battles have not seemed to handicap him — if anything, he has been able to exploit the case, casting himself as a persecuted underdog. On Tuesday, he slammed the media for accusing him of delaying the case and claimed they pronounced him guilty ahead of any court judgment.
    ‘‘The constitution says you are innocent until proven otherwise,’’ Zuma said at the rally. ‘‘Why do you judge Jacob Zuma beforehand?’’

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