The trial of Saddam Hussein has resumed in the absence of the former Iraqi leader after all the high-profile defendants and the entire defence team refused to turn up.
Neither Saddam nor his defence team or any of the three other well-known defendants attended the hearing on Wednesday after all had quit the stormy first session of the trial under new Judge Rauf Rashid Abd al-Rahman on Sunday.
One of the more minor defendants, a former local Baath party official, also refused to attend, leaving just three of the original eight defendants in the accused box.
The judge, whose hard line approach has courted fresh controversy for the court, said the trial would continue in any case, with the remaining defendants to be tried in absentia.
Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother, Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice-president and Awad Ahmad al-Bandar al-Sadun, former top judge joined the former Iraqi president in boycotting the session.
Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s lawyer, in a statement published hours before the trial was due to resume, laid out 11 conditions for the defence team to end their boycott.
Among those demands were the sacking of the judge and the switching of the trial "to a country which can offer security".
The defence team declared that judge Abd al-Rahman "be removed and cease to have anything to do with the accused because he shows them great hostility".
The tribunal earlier announced another three-hour delay and then held a closed session to sort out a procedural wrangle.
Neither Saddam nor his lawyers
attended Wednesday's session
The trial on Sunday turned into a virtual battle between the defendants, their lawyers and Abd al-Rahman, with the former demanding sacking of the judge and also relocation of the court out of Iraq, while the judge wants an apology.
The trial's hearing on Sunday saw dramatic outbursts from the judge as well as from Saddam and Barzan.
The lawyers from the defence team said the judge had contacted the defence team and asked them for an apology after which he would allow them to re-enter the court.
The judge also reportedly suggested a meeting with the defence team under the auspices of the Iraqi bar association to formalise procedural issues for future hearings.
The trial has already come under attack from human rights activists who have cast doubts over its fairness, after the previous presiding judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin quit last month.
Amin's dismissal flayed
Several members of parliament and government officials had publicly criticised Amin for what they viewed as lenient treatment of Saddam and his seven co-defendants, on trial for the killing of 148 inhabitants of the Shia village of Dujail in 1982.
"The demand for presiding judge Rizkar Amin's dismissal, which contributed to his resignation, was nothing less than an attack on judicial independence"
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch
If proved guilty, the accused face execution.
"The demand for presiding judge Rizkar Amin's dismissal, which contributed to his resignation, was nothing less than an attack on judicial independence," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, in a statement last week.
Also the appointment of Abd al-Rahman, a magistrate from outside the chamber, is believed to have annoyed other judges.
Abd al-Rahman, 64, is the vice-president of the criminal court in the northern town of Arbil and helped found the human rights organisation of the Kurdish autonomous region in 1991.
He was twice arrested by the Iraqi government and at one point was tortured so badly that he was partly paralyzed.
Abd al-Rahman was born in Halabja, the Kurdish town bombed by Saddam's forces with chemical weapons in 1988 - another of the events for which Saddam could be tried later.