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DAKAR (Reuters) - An appeals court has upheld the life sentence for Chad's former President Hissene Habre, convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the final decision of a landmark case, a judge presiding over the court in Senegal said on Thursday.

Habre, 74, an ally of the West during the Cold War, was sentenced last year to life in prison for rape and ordering the killing and torture of thousands of political opponents during his eight-year rule.

His lawyers had appealed the decision, saying the sentence was too severe. The final verdict marks the end of a 17-year battle by victims and rights groups to bring the former strong man to justice.

(Reporting by Diadie Ba; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Richard Lough)

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