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Ivory Coast Prosecutors Seek 15-Year Sentence for Accused Killer of French Journalist - 2004-01-21

State prosecutors in Ivory Coast have asked for a 15-year prison sentence for a policeman accused of killing a French journalist last year.

On Wednesday, the second day of the trial, prosecutors at the military tribunal said police officer Theodore Seri should get 15 years in jail for killing French radio journalist Jean Helene.

One prosecutor said Mr. Seri didn't deserve to wear a police uniform because he had committed what he described as a horrible crime.

On the first day of the trial Tuesday, Mr. Seri denied killing Mr. Helene on the night of October 21.

Mr. Helene was shot after arguing with Mr. Seri outside police headquarters in Abidjan, while awaiting the release of opposition activists.

Mr. Seri said Mr. Helene crumpled to the ground after he heard two shots being fired, but that these shots did not come from his own AK-47 rifle. He insisted he had no idea who did the shooting.

But a medical examiner says the shots were fired from a distance of between 20 and 40 centimeters.

The trial has highlighted tensions between foreign journalists and security forces in Ivory Coast.

The killing of Mr. Helene led to the departure of several foreign journalists from the southern commercial capital, Abidjan. They said it was no longer safe to work there, after receiving repeated threats from members of the security forces while doing their work.

Many southern Ivorians and political allies of President Laurent Gbagbo have accused foreign journalists of favoring the cause of northern rebels, who control half of Ivory Coast.

Several activists wearing T-shirts proclaiming the accused killer as a national hero are among several hundred people attending the open court case.

Relatives of Mr. Helene are also present. They are seeking monetary damages of nearly $200,000.