- Jacob Zuma - justice - South Africa
A South African court will rule Friday as to whether the corruption case of ruling party chief Jacob Zuma, whose vocal supporters have vowed to spill blood for him, should be thrown out of court.
Zuma's legal team asked the court to declare his pending prosecution illegal, arguing that authorities did not follow constitutional rules when recharging him in the long-running investigation.
The charismatic leader is expected to become South Africa's president in next year's general elections after ousting President Thabo Mbeki - who fired him as deputy president in 2005 - as leader of African National Congress (ANC).
Zuma faces 16 charges ranging from money-laundering to racketeering. But even if the court turns down his lawyer's request to dismiss the charges, the case could still face further delays.
If the court does not rule their way, his legal team can still appeal and also apply for a permanent stay of prosecution.
Analysts say that there is little chance that the case will reach trial before next year's elections.
Law professor Mike Cowling, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said a ruling on a permanent stay would not be likely before April - when South Africa's elections have traditionally taken place. A separate appeal could take up to two years, he added.
"At the moment, Zuma's team is creating a perception that what they want to do is delay the proceedings," Cowling said.
He rejected the argument of Zuma's supporters that he was the victim of a conspiracy and that the prosecution had infringed his constitutional rights.
"You can't say that he's been wrongly prosecuted," said Cowling.
"You might say it's selective and there are certain things that smell of conspiracy but the bottom line is that he's being prosecuted on the basis of very solid facts," he explained.
This did not mean Zuma was guilty, he added: only that he did have a legal case to answer.
Under current law, the politician would not be able to serve as president if sentenced to a jail term of more than 12 months.
To stay in power under such circumstances would require a constitutional reform, law expert David Unterhalter told AFP.
A more likely scenario was a possible plea bargain with the prosecution before being sentenced if the trial went ahead, Unterhalter said.
This would mean that the prosecution would have to agree to Zuma pleading to a lesser offence. There is no sign of that happening at this stage.
But if the trial were to go ahead and if Zuma became president, there would be pressure on the prosecution to consider a plea bargain if the trial went ahead, Unterhalter added.
With the hefty muscle of South Africa's trade unions and youth leagues behind him, Zuma took power of the ANC last December.
He was charged again on corruption charges days after toppling Mbeki who was seeking a third term as party leader.
He was sacked in 2005 after his former financial advisor was handed a 15-year prison sentence for paying him bribes.
Zuma has been investigated since 2001 for corruption, the main charge that he received bribes for protecting French arms company Thint in an investigation into a controversial arms deal.
His legal team had been about to launch a stay of prosecution in 2006, when an original corruption case against him was struck off the roll.
Thousands of Zuma's supporters from the ANC and its political allies are expected to demonstrate Friday, outside the Pietermaritzburg high court, in the politician's home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Known locally by his Zulu clan name of Msholozi, the former Robben Island political prisoner is well known for his trademark song "Umshini wami" (bring me my machine gun).
Zuma has been involved in several legal battles, including a dramatic rape acquittal in 2006 after a trial in which he admitted sleeping with a HIV-positive family friend and showering after sex to prevent infection.
Earlier this year, leaders of the ANC youth league and the powerful labour federation COSATU caused an outcry after pledging to "kill for Zuma".