War crimes trial told of fears for Papon's life

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Defence lawyers claimed yesterday that Maurice Papon, the 87- year-old former Vichy official accused of "crimes against humanity", during the Second World War might die during his trial unless he was released from jail.

The first day of the trial in Bordeaux, which is expected to last over two months, was dominated by argument over whether Mr Papon should go to a prison cell between hearings, as French law demands. The trial was adjourned until today to allow doctors to examine the former Paris police chief and budget minister.

Mr Papon's chief lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, warnedthat he and Mr Papon's family would "take all appropriate action" if the accused was ordered to stay in jail and died during the trial.

Mr Papon is accused of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in the arrest and deportation of 1,558 Jewish men, women and children from the Bordeaux area in 1942-44. His lawyers say his role was minor and that he helped Jews to escape, where he could. The prosecution, which has assembled 50,000 documents, including arrest and transport warrants bearing Mr Papon's signature, says he pursued Jews, not from anti-Semitism, but to prove his "competence and efficiency" as an administrator.