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French lawyer who defended Nazi war criminal Barbie and Carlos the Jackal is dead

The controversial French lawyer Jacques Verges, known as the "devil's advocate" has died in Paris at the age of 88. His clients included Carlos the Jackal and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.

A statement from the publishers of the lawyer's memoirs announced that Jacques Verges died of a cardiac arrest in Paris on Thursday.

Verges died "in the room of Voltaire, precisely Quai Voltaire in Paris, as he was about to have dinner with his family. An ideal place for the last performance which was the death of this born actor who, like Voltaire, cultivated the art of rebellion and about-turns," the statement reprinted by Le Figaro newspaper read.

The son of a French diplomat and a Vietnamese mother, Verges grew up on the island of Reunion. He was famous for his choice of clients as a lawyer, including Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Known as the "Butcher of Lyon" Barbie was brought back from South America to stand trial in France.

The lawyer had argued that Barbie was being singled out for prosecution while the French state ignored other cases that qualified as crimes against humanity. Barbie was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Fighting with the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War Verges then joined the communist party in France. He studied law in Paris, and met Pol Pot who was later to lead the Khmer Rouge communist party in Cambodia.

Fame as a lawyer and celebrity for his connections grew as Verges took on controversial cases, including those of Algerians fighting against their French colonial rulers. The mystery surrounding his life was enhanced by his disappearance from public view for a number of years during the 1970s.

Verges defended Venezuelan, Ilich Ramírez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal on charges of the murders of two Paris policemen. His client was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Verges offered to represent former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, although Milosevic declined any legal advice from any party.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan was another of Verge's clients, who he defended at Cambodia's genocide tribunal. Vergès used the defense that while Samphan has never denied that many people in Cambodia were killed, as head of state, he was never directly responsible.

Vergès married one of his clients, the legendary guerrilla fighter Djamila Bouhired who was accused of blowing up a cafe during the Algerian war for independence from France. They had two children.

jm/ccp (AFP)