PARAMARIBO: A court in Suriname on Friday convicted President Desi Bouterse of murder for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 following a coup to seize power, sentencing the man who has dominated the former Dutch colony’s recent history to 20 years in prison.

Opposition parties called for Bouterse, currently in China on an official visit, to step down. The military court that found him guilty has not yet ordered his arrest.

Bouterse was expected to return to Suriname on Saturday or Sunday, skipping a planned trip to Cuba, the vice president of his National Democratic Party told local newspaper De Ware Tijd. Ramon Abrahams told the paper he was in telephone contact with Bouterse and called an emergency meeting of the party. Bouterse led the South American country through the 1980s as head of a military government, then assumed office again in 2010 and secured re-election five years later.

The court ruled that Bouterse had overseen an operation in which soldiers under his command abducted 16 leading government critics – including lawyers, journalists and university teachers – from their homes and killed 15 of them at a colonial fortress in the capital Paramaribo. One trade union leader survived and later gave testimony against Bouterse.

Bouterse, who has steadfastly denied the charges, is able to appeal the decision. reuters

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