Madagascar suspects deny lynching of two Europeans
The 37 defendants on trial in Madagascar for the 2013 lynching of two Europeans and a local man sought on Monday to prove they were not part of the murderous mob.
Residents in Madagascar's tourist hotspot Nosy Be went on a rampage on October 3, 2013, after the body of a missing eight-year-old boy was found on the beach.
Acting on false rumours of foreign involvement and a paedophilia connection, the mob killed French tourist Sebastien Judalet and French-Italian resident Roberto Gianfalla, beating them with logs before burning their bodies.
The mob then tracked down, beat and burnt to death the boy's uncle.
The scenes shocked holidaymakers around the world, who visit the island for its pristine white beaches and clear turquoise waters.
Mob justice is a recurrent problem on the island nation, which lies off southeast Africa.
State lawyer Jean de Dieudonne Andrianaivoson said that "lynching" was however "the opposite of Madagascar culture".
The 37 defendants -- including 35 civilians and two policemen -- have been charged with a range of offences from murder and kidnapping to vandalism. All have pleaded not guilty.
Defence lawyers argued that the accused had little to do with the mayhem, saying they were onlookers arrested by police too scared to tackle the mob to arrest the real perpetrators.
"No one has been caught in the act, the policemen didn't dare confront the crowd, instead preferring to arrest people on the fringes," said defence lawyer Me Jacky Razafimandroso.
Five of the defendants testified Monday.
"I was arrested one week after the fact, I am the victim of false association by jealous people," said Herman Albert Tombo, 37.
On Tuesday, the court will hear from others accused of vandalism, followed by those charged with kidnapping and murder.
Despite the lynching making headlines worldwide, interest in the case has died down.
The families of the European victims were notably absent from the proceedings.
Gianfalla, a former French cook, was living in Madagascar at the time of his death. Judalet worked as a bus driver in France and regularly vacationed in Madagascar.
The paedophilia claims are highly sensitive in the country, where poverty fuels prostitution of minors.
The United Nations has said it has "deep concerns" about child prostitution linked to Madagascar's tourism industry.
© 2015 AFP