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Equatorial Guinea Wants Mark Thatcher for Trial

Equatorial Guinea has decided to seek the extradition of Mark Thatcher (search), son of the former British prime minister, for trial in an alleged coup plot in the isolated, oil-rich central African nation, a legal official close to the government said Tuesday.

Prosecutors have added Thatcher and seven others to the list of those charged in the alleged March takeover plot, legal officials said.

Thatcher, a 51-year-old businessman, is now under arrest in South Africa in connection with the alleged plot.

"It's not a question of being tried in absentia," a legal official close to Attorney General Jose Olo Obono said, speaking by telephone to The Associated Press in Senegal on condition of anonymity. The intention is "to invite him to come along," the official said.

There was no immediate comment from Equatorial Guinea's government. No new charges were announced in court Tuesday, when the coup trial resumed after a two-month break.

The government had said that during the break it would examine then-emerging evidence against Thatcher and other alleged plot bankrollers.

Thatcher attorney Allan Bruce Brand, who has maintained the Briton's innocence, declined additional comment Tuesday.

Equatorial Guinea accuses Thatcher, the only son of Margaret Thatcher, and other, mainly British, financiers of conspiring for mercenaries to overthrow 25-year president Teodoro Obiang (search).

The financiers intended to install an exiled opposition figure, Severo Moto (search), as the figurehead leader of Africa's No. 3 oil producer, Equatorial Guinea claims.

Equatorial Guinea prosecutors moved Tuesday into what they said would be the last days of the joint trial of 19 earlier defendants — formally requesting the death penalty for their star witness, South African arms dealer Nick du Toit (search).

Prosecutors allege du Toit was the lead man on the ground in Equatorial Guinea for Thatcher and his fellow alleged coup plotters.

South African intelligence services exposed the alleged plot in March, days before it allegedly was to have been carried out.

Authorities arrested the 19 men here and scores of other accused mercenaries in Zimbabwe, which was to have been one of their several launch pads in the coup attempt, prosecutors say.

Du Toit told the court Tuesday that his alleged confession was coerced.

"It was Zimbabwean police who interrogated me, and who threatened to kill me if I did not maintain the account of attempted coup d'etat," said du Toit, who has worn leg shackles, chains and handcuffs throughout the trial.

"If anyone has evidence of a coup attempt, they should show the evidence," du Toit said.

The 19 defendants here include South Africans and others of African nationalities, and six Armenian pilots. Some showed the court what they said were scars from torture when the trial first opened.

Equatorial Guinea is routinely accused by the U.S. State Department and international organizations of torture and other human rights abuses.

Du Toit is the only defendant in custody facing the death penalty. Prosecutors also asked for the death penalty on Tuesday for opposition figure Moto, in exile in Spain.

Thatcher was arrested at his home in South Africa in August as the trial here was in its first weeks. Equatorial Guinea's legal team claims that evidence against Thatcher includes his alleged financial stake in a business that leased an aircraft used by the accused coup plotters.

The aircraft was used to fly Moto and some financiers from Canary Islands to Bamako, Mali, on March 7, allegedly positioning them for the coup, the legal official close to the government said.

Besides Thatcher, the seven other newly charged defendants include opposition figures in exile in Spain, Nguema, the defense lawyer, told reporters.

Britain's Foreign Office in London declined comment Tuesday, other than to say it was "in touch" with Thatcher in South Africa.