Dictator takes his place in lecture hall

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The Independent Online
Human rights observers say that Captain Valentine Strasser, the former West African military dictator, has never been one to show much regard for legal process. But yesterday a man who, according to Amnesty International, presided over the "torture, ill-treatment and execution" of captured or suspected insurgents in Sierra Leone, joined undergraduates at Warwick University for the first lectures in his law degree course.

Captain Strasser, 32, whose studies are being paid for by the United Nations, seized power in a military coup in 1992, but was himself overthrown four years later and forced into exile in Guinea.

His quest for knowledge of the judicial system took him to Coventry, where he took a foundation law course at the city's technical college before being accepted by the university. Peter Dunn, spokesman for Warwick University, said yesterday that Strasser would be treated like any "normal student".

But then the presence of foreign dictators is not unprecedented at Warwick. After he was ousted in a coup in 1975, General Yakubu Gowon, the former Nigerian head of state, took up a research post at the Midlands university, interspersed with trips to London where he was a popular figure on the Belgravia dinner party circuit.