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Fritzl trial for kidnapping and incest opens Monday

Latest update : 2009-03-19

Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old Austrian who locked his daughter in a cellar for most of her adult life and had seven children with her, will go on trial Monday for charges including murder, rape and incest.

AFP - On the eve of the biggest incest trial in recent Austrian history, media vans have set up shop and security barriers have gone up, but locals seem oblivious to the action.

It's a grey and rainy day in Sankt Poelten, a town some 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of Vienna where Josef Fritzl, who has admitted to raping and locking up his daughter Elisabeth for 24 years in a cellar at his home, goes on trial on Monday.

Around the 100-year-old courthouse, metal barricades are lined up and podiums have been built for TV stand-ups.

Cables have been strung across the grass and in a nearby parking lot and media vans from Germany, Britain and Spain stand ready to broadcast pictures of the trial around the world.

A tent also has been set up for daily press briefings.

But the grounds are practically deserted, except for a few isolated camera crews and technicians milling about, getting ready for the following day, when the media gets its first look at Fritzl.

After the charges have been read however, the proceedings will continue behind closed doors to protect the victims' identities.

And this may signal the departure of the first journalists.

"For television, for image, it's not good: we'll only have a door, a window," said Guillermo Pascual, correspondent for Spain's Antena 3 television.

The podium for cameras has been set up opposite the closed door of the courthouse.

But while international interest has been high -- just under 100 journalists have been accredited to the trial due to lack of space but about twice as many are expected to cover it -- locals are dutifully ignoring the event.

"It's horrible, it's a really shocking case," said Rosemarie from behind the counter at the bakery.

"You hear about it on the news, you read about it in the papers but actually nobody's talking about it," she added.

"Everyone is saying: 'we're sick of it. Why are people still harping on about it when we already know all the details of the case?'" said Peter Bylica, spokesman for Sankt Poelten.

"This is not the scene of the crime," he added.

Elisabeth Fritzl's 24-year ordeal took place 60 kilometres away in Amstetten. Sankt Poelten, the regional capital, is merely holding the trial.

A few hoped to get some business out of the case. A restaurant close to the court planned to offer a 'Fritzl Schnitzel', before the town asked him to take it off his menu.

The swimming pool across the street from the courthouse was meanwhile worried about the lack of parking spaces over the coming week.

For security reasons, no parking zones have been set up around the courthouse and the air above the building and adjacent prison, where Fritzl is being held, has been declared a no-fly zone for the trial's duration.

Two dozen police officers will ensure security around the area come Monday, with help from court security and a private firm.

At the house in Amstetten where Fritzl locked up his daughter, fathering seven children with her, everything appeared calm over the weekend, the only sign of heightened security being a new padlock on the garden gate.

A couple of television crews lingered around but according to a waitress at the Cafe Exel, "people are no longer interested in this case. They want to move on."

On the main square in front of the cafe, Amstetten residents held a mass gathering last May to defend their town's name and press for a return to normality.

Fritzl, 73, was arrested last April for imprisoning and raping his daughter for 24 years in a narrow cellar. During this time, she gave birth to seven children, one of which apparently died shortly after birth.

Fritzl has been charged with rape, incest, sequestration, grievous assault, slavery and murder for the newborn's death.

Date created : 2009-03-15