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A court in Equatorial Guinea convicted 24 accused European and African mercenaries and opposition leaders on Friday and sentenced them to prison for an alleged coup plot in the oil-rich nation, but it waived the death penalty for two top figures.

The court's rejection of death penalties requested by prosecutors potentially strengthens Equatorial Guinea's bid to extradite an alleged financier of the plot: Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

President Teodoro Obiang's 25-year regime accuses Thatcher and other, mostly British, financiers of commissioning scores of mercenaries in a takeover plot in the isolated West African nation, which is the continent's third-largest oil producer.

The financial backers intended to install an opposition figure as a puppet leader, Equatorial Guinea claims. The alleged plot was exposed by South African intelligence services in March, leading to the arrests of roughly 90 alleged mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe.

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