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Zimbabwe Activists Applaud Charles Taylor Sentence

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday for war crimes and crimes against humanity over his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war that killed more than 50, 000 people in the 1990s.

Taylor was convicted by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone last month on 11 counts of aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front rebels by providing them with arms in exchange of so-called "blood diamonds."

The former warlord listened somberly as presiding judge Richard Lussick read out the sentence.

"Mr. Taylor, for the forgoing reasons, the trial chamber unanimously sentences you to a single term of imprisonment of 50 years for all the counts on which you have been found guilty," judge Lussick said.

Prosecutors in The Hague were seeking 80 years, but Lussick said the sentence would be too excessive. The prosecution quickly said it would appeal the reduced sentence, as did the defense arguing it is too much.

Sierra Leone's government applauded the sentence saying justice had been served.

Taylor’s conviction is the first by an international tribunal against a head of state since the World War II trial at Nuremberg. It is also the first against a former African leader.

He is expected to serve jail time in a British prison.

African leaders, led by long-ruling Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe have criticized such international tribunals and the International Criminal Court for allegedly targeting politicians from third world nations, especially in Africa.

Mr. Mugabe has himself been accused of committing crimes against humanity during a military campaign in Matabeleland during the 1980s, code-named Gukurahundi, meaning the early rains that wash away the chaff.

Zimbabwean activists, including London-based commentator Nkululeko Sibanda, said Taylor's sentencing should serve as a warning to other leaders who abuse their authority.