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Suriname lawmakers pass amnesty bill ending president's trial

Suriname [official website, in Dutch] lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday that pardons President Desi Bouterse for offenses committed in defense of the state during an earlier dictatorship, despite opposition arguments that the president's trial should continue. The National Assembly approved the legislation by a vote of 28-12 [AP Report] which amends the country's current amnesty law. Bouterse seized control of Suriname during a military coup in 1980, five years after the country achieved independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down in 1987 in the face of international pressure and briefly seized power in 1991. Bouterse was elected president of Suriname [Reuters report] in a parliamentary vote in 2010. Bouterse previously faced up to 20 years in prison and staunchly denied his involvement in committing the offenses. The country's lawmakers said this was an important step in the development of the country. In response to opposition, lawmakers did agree to strip amnesty for those involved in the massacre of ethnic Maroons in 1986 during the country's civil war. Opponents believed this was not enough and that it was unfair for the families of the victims. They continued to urge that the trial be completed.

The legislation was first proposed [JURIST report] at the end of March. Bouterse's trial has been ongoing since 2008. In April 2008, a military tribunal in Suriname ruled [JURIST report] that all suspects involved in a 1982 massacre must stand trial, including Bouterse. Bouterse's trial began [JURIST report] in July 2008 with former bodyguard Onno Flohr testifying that Bouterse was present at the killings of 15 political opponents, including lawyers, journalists, professors, military officers and businessmen, accused of plotting against the government and that the other members of the firing squad were ordered to fire under the threat of death. In 2009, the trial of the former dictator resumed [JURIST report] with testimony by a former prison warden that he brought a leader of a 1982 military coup to an army barracks for execution.

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