Shining Path founder rejects terrorism charge in Peru retrial

Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, whose messianic communist vision inspired a rebellion that left nearly 70,000 people dead, denied Monday in his civilian retrial that he was a terrorist.

"I am a revolutionary combatant and totally reject being a terrorist," Radioprogramas radio quoted Guzman as saying during his retrial, now entering its third week in a maximum-security naval base where he has been held since April 1993.

A court spokesman told The Associated Press the quotation was accurate.

"I have not been a terrorist and never will be. I am recognized as the leader of Communist Party," Guzman, a 70-year-old former philosophy professor, reportedly said before refusing to answer further questions.

Guzman was sentenced to life soon after his 1992 capture, but the draconian military court system that judged him and hundreds of other rebels was ruled unconstitutional two years ago, leading to his civilian retrial, in which prosecutors are seeking another life sentence.

Guzman and nearly a dozen of his top commanders are charged with directing a campaign of car bombings, sabotage, assassinations and massacres in the 1980s and early 1990s to overthrow the government and install a communist state.

The Shining Path was one of Latin America's deadliest insurgencies and blamed for more than half an estimated 69,280 deaths between 1980 and 2000. The Shining Path urged its followers to "cross a river of blood" to achieve its vision of a classless society even if it cost a million lives. The violence dropped off significantly following the capture of Guzman and other key leaders.

Several hundred guerrillas continue to operate in Peru's highland jungles, where they run protection for cocaine traffickers, AP reported.

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