Charles Taylor

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Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor has disrupted the scheduled closing of his war crimes trial, boycotting a crucial hearing Wednesday as he did the trial's opening in 2007.

Taylor and his lawyer, scheduled to present their closing arguments Wednesday, were defiantly absent after a trial of more than three years on charges of arming rebels who killed and maimed thousands in Sierra Leone.

"We made a decision yesterday that unless and until these judges are prepared to accept the defence final brief and so be in a position to consider our arguments, we are not going to cooperate with this trial," defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told journalists outside the courtroom.

With nobody in court to present the defence closing oral arguments, judge Teresa Doherty adjourned the proceedings to Friday -- originally set aside for final rebuttal arguments by both parties.

The rebuttal, which cannot happen without defence closing statements, would have been the final step before the judges retire to consider their judgment.

But now Griffiths, who stormed out of the courtroom on Tuesday in protest against the court's refusal to accept his late filing of a defence brief, has filed a bid to appeal that ruling which must be considered before any finality can be reached.

The lawyer insisted that neither he nor his client would be present on Friday.

After his lawyer's stand-off with the judges, Taylor himself refused Tuesday to return to the courtroom from a morning coffee break.

On Wednesday, the court received a letter stating that "Mr Taylor has waived his right to be present."

"As far as we are concerned it would be totally illegitimate for us to get involved in this stage," Griffiths told journalists.

Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, claiming his trial was based on "lies" and an intelligence conspiracy.

He is the first African head of state to be tried by an international tribunal.

On Tuesday, prosecutors told the court he had armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times, in exchange for so-called blood diamonds.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror," against the people of Sierra Leone, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the judges, describing Taylor as "a man with an insatiable greed for wealth and power."

© 2011 AFP

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