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Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt appears in court on genocide charges, but retrial suspended

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GUATEMALA CITY — Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt's retrial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity was postponed Monday, dismaying victims who have long sought to see him punished for the massacre of thousands of Mayan Indians during his 1982-83 regime.

Clad in pajamas and covered in a blanket, the 88-year-old Rios Montt was wheeled into a courtroom on a gurney after the tribunal threw out a defense argument that the 88-year-old was too frail to attend.

Judge Jeannette Valdez initially turned down a motion that she recuse herself because she wrote a master's thesis on genocide, calling it "a strategy to obstruct" the proceedings. But the two other judges who make up the panel accepted the motion, causing the trial's onset to be postponed.

"Genocidal killer! Justice is what we want, coward!" human rights activists and victims shouted after learning of the decision.

Rios Montt was convicted on the same charges in 2013 in what many considered a historic ruling for a nation still struggling coming to terms with its long and bloody civil war. Soon after, however, his 80-year sentence was overturned and a new trial ordered.

In an interview last week at her dirt-floor adobe home in Nebaj Quiche, 88-year-old Magdalena Bernal de Paz recalled how villagers fled to the mountains when soldiers attacked in 1982.

PHOTO: Guatemala's former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt arrives on a gurney wearing sunglasses to court where he faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemala City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. The court had ordered the 88-year-old to appear after rejecting a defense motion that he was too frail to attend. Rios Montt was convicted for the massacre of thousands during his 1982-83 regime in what was considered a historic 2013 ruling. But his 80-year sentence was later overturned and a restart to the trial ordered. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)
Guatemala's former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt arrives on a gurney wearing sunglasses to court where he faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemala City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. The court had ordered the 88-year-old to appear after rejecting a defense motion that he was too frail to attend. Rios Montt was convicted for the massacre of thousands during his 1982-83 regime in what was considered a historic 2013 ruling. But his 80-year sentence was later overturned and a restart to the trial ordered. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)

"They burned the corn, the house, the clothing," Bernal told The Associated Press, speaking in the Ixil language as her granddaughter translated into Spanish. "They left us with nothing. ... It was all lost."

Bernal testified to all that in the 2013 trial. But now, she said, her health is too delicate to make the 155 mile (250 kilometer) trip to the capital.

"Saying it once is enough. If they want me to retell it again, it will have to be here," Bernal said.

Meanwhile, several other witnesses at the last trial have passed away in the interim.

Rios Montt's former chief of intelligence, Gen. Mauricio Rodriguez, also appeared Monday.

"I am ready for the new trial. I want to end this humiliation already," said Rodriguez, who added that he suffers from leukemia.

According to a U.N. estimate, some 245,000 people died or disappeared during Guatemala's 1960-1996 conflict, the vast majority at the hands of the armed forces or paramilitary bands.

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PHOTO: Guatemala's former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt arrives on a gurney wearing sunglasses to court where he faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Guatemala City, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. The court had ordered the 88-year-old to appear after rejecting a defense motion that he was too frail to attend. Rios Montt was convicted for the massacre of thousands during his 1982-83 regime in what was considered a historic 2013 ruling. But his 80-year sentence was later overturned and a restart to the trial ordered. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)
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