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Doctors want defendant in Nazi trial hospitalized

Doctors examined former Cabinet minister Maurice Papon on Thursday and recommended that he be held in a hospital, not a prison, during his trial for allegedly sending French Jews to Nazi death camps.

Presiding Judge Jean-Louis Castagnede said a decision on whether to keep the 87-year-old defendant in prison would be announced Friday.On Wednesday, the opening day of the trial, Papon told the court that he lacks the physical or mental stamina to remain jailed during the proceedings, which are expected to last into December. He underwent triple-bypass heart surgery last year and continues to take heart medicine.

Thursday, state prosecutor Henri Desclaux read the conclusions of the court-appointed medical team charged with examining Papon.

Detention is not incompatible with Papon's state of health, but "given his heart conditions, the risks would be reduced if he were placed under surveillance in a cardiology unit," Desclaux told the court, reading a report by two doctors.

Papon, a former Bordeaux police supervisor, is charged with signing the arrest orders and preparing the convoys that sent 1,690 Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II. He is the most senior French official in the collaborationist Vichy regime to stand trial for his role in the persecution and deportation of Jews.

Elegant in a navy blue blazer and gray slacks, Papon rose from his seat behind bulletproof glass Wednesday to request he be freed from the detention he began Tuesday.

"I have only one voice," he said. "I ask, with skepticism, to have equal weapons so I can defend myself without having to bear the unbearable weight of detention."

His lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, pleaded for his release, saying detention might be fatal and saying that Papon was being detained in "inhumane conditions" at the Gradignan prison outside Bor-deaux.

Lawyers representing the families of several hundred victims, Holocaust survivors, and Jewish groups who have waited 16 years for the trial oppose Papon's request.

"I can't stand the idea of Papon going to a five-star hotel every night after the hearings," said Therese Stopnicki, who escaped the police roundup that captured her young sisters.

"It's his way of thumbing his nose at us, of literally going free, after all we've gone through to bring him to trial."