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Prosecutors may present their closing arguments in late April in the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who stands accused of murder and other heinous crimes, including masterminding two deadly sarin attacks, legal sources said Wednesday.

The Tokyo District Court has informed the prosecution and defense teams of its decision to question the defendant in at least three of the seven trial sessions scheduled for March and April, including the 251st one, slated for March 13, the sources said.

If Asahara, 47, refuses to speak or answer questions, as he has done up to now, the prosecution will probably deliver its closing statement in late April, bringing the trial that began in April 1996 to its final stage, the sources said.

Asahara stands indicted on 13 counts, including seven for murder. The 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000. The nerve gas attack the previous year in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, killed seven and injured hundreds.

In April 1997, Asahara pleaded not guilty to all the charges except for one of attempted murder. He has refused to consult with his court-appointed lawyers throughout the almost seven years of his trial so far.

The cult guru has also refused to respond to questions from the presiding judge in court.

His defense team has asked the court to approve questioning of the defendant in at least three sessions and the court and prosecutors agreed with the request, according to the sources.

The defense examination of witnesses, which began last June, is scheduled to end this month. The presentation of evidence for the trial is expected to end after victims and relatives of the dead make their statements, in addition to the questioning of Asahara.

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