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Charles Taylor jailed for 50 years

Judges at an international war crimes court have sentenced former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison following his landmark conviction for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone who murdered and mutilated thousands during their country's brutal civil war in return for blood diamonds.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty last month on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels who went on a bloody rampage during the decade-long war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.

Presiding Judge Richard Lussick says the crimes Taylor was convicted of were of the "utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality."

The 64-year-old warlord-turned-president is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since the Second World War.

Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail. His lawyers, however, are expected to appeal his convictions and that will likely keep him in a jail in The Hague, Netherlands, for months.

Prosecutors say he funnelled arms, ammunition and other supplies in return for "blood diamonds" mined using slave labour.

Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said: "The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions."

Taylor showed no emotion as the judge handed down what will effectively be a life sentence. Prosecutors had asked judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to impose an 80-year sentence; Taylor's lawyers urged judges to hand down a sentence that offered him some hope of release before he dies.

Mr Lussick said an 80-year sentence would have been excessive as Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes and not direct involvement.

But the judge added that Taylor was "in a class of his own" compared to others convicted by the United Nations-backed court. "The special status of Mr. Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing," Mr Lussick said.

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