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Kepiro war crimes trial continues in Budapest

BUDAPEST (JTA) — The war crimes trial of a former World War II gendarmerie officer continued in Hungary, after the accused was declared medically fit to stand trial.

Sandor Kepiro, 97, a former gendarmerie captain, faces charges regarding war crimes committed in 1942 in the Serbian city of Novi Sad.

After medical tests earlier this week, his trial began in the Budapest Supreme Court building.

"There is no obstacle to continue the trial, as there is no sign of any mental illness. The accused is responsible or accountable, and able to understand what is going on during the trial,” Judge Bela Varga said Thursday, echoing the opinion of doctors who examined Kepiro on May 17.

The judge added that though Kepiro has hearing problems due to old age, with the help of hearing aids he is able to follow the trial without any difficulty. Nevertheless, due to Kepiro’s physical limits, the judge ordered the trial’s court sessions to be shortened.  Each session will be limited to 45 minutes.

During Thursday’s court session, the judge read the charges against Kepiro from a post-war trial in 1948, in which Kepiro was accused of giving orders to shoot and kill about 30 people on the banks of the Danube River in the Serbian town of Novi Sad, on Jan. 23, 1942.

The prosecutors of the trial, which started at the beginning of this May in Budapest, charge Kepiro with taking part in January 1942 raids by Hungarian forces in the Northern Serbian town, Novi Sad, in which some 1,200, Serbs, Gypsies and Jews were killed.

Kepiro was found guilty of involvement twice; once by the pre-Nazi Hungarian courts, and again after the war, in 1946. By then he allegedly had fled via Austria to Argentina. He returned to Budapest in 1996, and Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, who has been searching for Nazi war criminals under the center’s Operation Last Chance program, located him.

Kepiro continues to deny all charges.

The judge prohibited the taking of photos during the trial, and also banned the wearing of any "politically motivated symbols,” including the symbolic black-shirt uniform of the Hungarian far-right; several of those shirts were seen in the courtroom on Thursday.

The trial, which may be one of the last ones against a perpetrator of World War II war crimes, continues next week.

A verdict is expected early in June.

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