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Equatorial Guinea Sentences Alleged Coup Plotters

A court in sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil producing nation, Equatorial Guinea, has handed down lengthy jail sentences to a dozen South Africans and Armenians convicted of plotting a coup. An opposition leader in exile and his aides were also sentenced and fined.

South African arms dealer Nick du Toit was sentenced to 34 years and fined more than $2 million Friday in the courtroom in Malabo. He was convicted of playing a leading role in an alleged multinational plot earlier this year to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

At least four other South Africans and six Armenians were given sentences of over 10 years.

They all pleaded innocent in court, while du Toit said he had made an initial confession under torture.

Opposition leader Severo Moto, who lives in exile in Spain, was sentenced to 63 years in jail and fined more than $3 million. Eight of his aides were sentenced to 52 years.

The alleged motive was a share of renegotiated oil contracts. Mr. Moto has been sentenced in prior alleged coup plots, and has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence. Spain has refused to extradite him.

An analyst with the London-based World Markets Research Center, Chris Melville, says he was not surprised that what he views as a politically-motivated court did not hand down death sentences.

"The president himself has attempted to use this whole trial as a public relations exercise, and it would have served him no good at all to certainly appear to be a man who is prepared to execute his political enemies," he said.

Friday, the court also said the state should continue to pursue all those suspected of playing a part in the alleged plot, including the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mark Thatcher, an alleged financier of the mercenaries. He has also denied involvement.

Analyst Chris Melville says he does not believe Mr. Thatcher should be surprised by these developments.

"He would have been quite prepared for the sentences that we have seen today," he added. "He is unlikely to be any more disturbed than he already is by the prospect of facing trial in Equatorial Guinea, even if, I think as is probably likely, he faces trial in absentia."

President Nguema has been in power since toppling his own uncle in 1979. His rule has been marked by human rights abuses, growing oil revenue and corruption.