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Eugene de Kock, (L) an apartheid-era assassin nicknamed Prime Evil, appears at the Truth And Reconcilation Commission (TRC) amnesty hearing with his lawyer Schalk Hugo May24,1999.


JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Jailed South African apartheid death-squad leader Eugene de Kock, dubbed 'Prime Evil' for murdering black activists in the 1980s, has launched a court bid to force the government to consider him for parole, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

De Kock, who is believed to have been responsible for more atrocities than any other man in the efforts to preserve white minority rule in South Africa, became eligible for release last month after 20 years behind bars.

However, Justice Minister Michael Masutha delayed by a year the sensitive decision on whether or not to set him free, saying the families of his victims had not been properly consulted.

De Kock's lawyer Julian Knight said Masutha's argument was being challenged as legally flawed since the need to consult families about parole decisions was only introduced in 2004 - a decade after de Kock was arrested and jailed.

"It's a political game," Knight told Reuters. "The minister should be treating de Kock as any other criminal."

If de Kock is successful in getting the court to overturn Masutha's decision, it will put the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which came to power at the end of apartheid in 1994, in a tight spot.

Although de Kock has few if any supporters, releasing convicted killers on parole has become commonplace, especially if - as is the case with de Kock - they have expressed remorse and are considered to no longer represent a threat to society.

However, as the number of callers to radio stations showed in the run-up to Masutha's decision last month, many among South Africa's black majority believe de Kock's crimes are so extreme that he should die behind bars.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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