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Bollywood star pleads for mercy

A Bollywood screen idol pleaded with a judge for a lenient sentence Thursday, two days after he was convicted of weapons charges that grew out of the investigation into bombings that rocked the nation’s financial center 13 years ago.Sanjay Dutt, who plays a likable thug in a current hit film, was convicted of illegally keeping three unlicensed assault rifles and a pistol in his suburban Mumbai h
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Bollywood screen idol pleaded with a judge for a lenient sentence Thursday, two days after he was convicted of weapons charges that grew out of the investigation into bombings that rocked the nation’s financial center 13 years ago.

Sanjay Dutt, who plays a likable thug in a current hit film, was convicted of illegally keeping three unlicensed assault rifles and a pistol in his suburban Mumbai home in early 1993. The weapons were allegedly supplied by a suspect in the March 12, 1993, terrorist attacks that killed 257 people in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay.

But Judge Pramode Kode acquitted Dutt of conspiring in the terror plot and of charges he illegally possessed hand grenades.

“I love my country,” Dutt said, standing in the dock. “I love the people of my country. I would request the honorable court to please show mercy and leniency.”

The judge could sentence the actor, currently out on bail, to up to 10 years in prison.

Dutt was one of 123 defendants charged in the case, which has been called India’s lengthiest trial. Kode has so far convicted 94 defendants and acquitted 23 others.

The judge is likely to hand out sentences early next year, after ruling on the guilt or innocence of six remaining defendants.

On Thursday, Dutt described the charity work he has done since he was released on bail in 1995 after spending 18 months in prison.

He also said he needed to work to support his daughter, a university student.

“I’ve never given any cause for complaint,” he said. “I have no prior convictions. I’ve abided by all rules and regulations and no other case is pending against me.”

Dutt’s career survived his arrest in the terror case. More than half of his 105 films were made after his release on bail.

His parents, Sunil and Nargis Dutt, were Bollywood legends. The actor appears in the recent hit film, “Lage Raho Munnabhai,” or “Keep At It, Munnabhai,” in which he plays a charming rogue.

The trial began in June 1995 and ended in January 2003, after hearing testimonies of 686 witnesses. The accused faced charges ranging from conspiracy to commit terrorist acts to attempting to destabilize the nation’s financial capital.

Thirty-five suspects remain at large, including the alleged masterminds, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, Indian mobsters who police say are hiding in neighboring Pakistan. Pakistani authorities deny the allegation.