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Africa

Oscar Pistorius pleads not guilty

The trial of South Africa’s world famous paralympian, Oscar Pistorius, opened in a Pretoria court on Monday with the accused insisting he was not guilty. The opening was broadcast, in part, on live television.

Pistorius is accused of murder and faces three other counts relating to the discharging of firearms in public and the illegal possession of ammunition.

The first witness testified to hearing a woman's "blood-curdling" screams before the sound of four gunshots on the night in which Pistorius' girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp died.

Michell Burger, who lives on an estate next to Pistorius' gated community, said she and her husband were woken up by the screams in the pre-dawn hours of February 14, 2013.

Pistorius insists he shot Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a dangerous intruder in his house. Prosecutors believe the athlete shot his girlfriend after a loud argument and a fight.

Tough job ahead for the prosecution

Ralph Mathekga, an independent South African analyst, told DW that the prosecution has the bigger task in this trial.

"The prosecution's case rests a lot on circumstantial evidence," he said. There was no prosecution witness at the scene of the crime when it was committed. The only people present were the deceased and the accused, he explained

"The closest person to the scene of the crime is the neighbour lady who testified to have heard certain noises and all of this is just circumstantial evidence," Mathekga said in a reference to Burger's court appearance on Monday.

Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp was a glamorous model and budding reality TV show star

The trial, which is being broadcast live on TV in South Africa and across the world, has put South Africa in the spotlight again for the first time since the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela in December 2013.

"I believe that the main interest in live coverage is to demonstrate to South Africans that the trial is going to be carried out like any other criminal procedure in the country," said Mathekga.

The spokesperson of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), Nathi Mncube, told DW correspodent Thuso Khumalo that the prosecution was happy with the way the trial had proceeded so far.

"We have started well although we had glitches in the morning in terms of the court but as NPA we are happy," said Mncube." We are also happy that there has been some admissions by the defense, not that they mean anything in terms of his guilt, but that in terms of the process itself, it makes it shorter," he added.

Long sentence, if convicted

If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could spend at least 25 years behind bars before being given the chance of parole.

A lesser sentence is possible if Pistorius is found guilty of murder, but without premeditation. He also could be convicted of culpable homicide.

South Africa does not have the death penalty.

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