BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, JUNE 12 -- Former imperor Bokassa I, tears glistening , was sentenced to death today for at least 20 murders of real or imagined opponents during his 14-year reign of terror.

The 66-year-old former dictator, now known as Jean-Bedel Bokassa, declined to comment.

The verdict followed six days of deliberations and a six-month trial. Bokassa was aquitted on several of the 14 charges against him, including cannibalism.

After conferring with Bokassa, his lawyer, Francis Szpiner, said he would file an appeal on Saturday. No date was set for the execution.

Executions in this impoverished, landlocked nation are generally by firing squad, but the judgment did not specify how Bokassa should die.

No death sentence has been carried out since President Andre Kolingba came to power in a bloodless coup six years ago. Kolingba was widely expected to commute Bokassa's sentence to life imprisonment.

The 500,000 inhabitants of the Central African Republic's dusty capital showed little interest in the final stages of the trail.

A few dozen civilians turned up outside the courtroom today, far outnumbered by troops, police and security men.

Bokassa, sentenced to death in his absence in 1980, returned voluntary from French exile last October, saying he wanted to clear himself.

He seized power in 1965 and proclaimed himself emperor in 1976. He was overthrown in a French-backed coup in 1979.

The nine-member court-threejudges and six jurors-found Bokassa guilty of ordering prisoners to be put to death in Bangui's infamous Ngaragba prison.

The court also found Bokassa guilty of ordering the arrest of more than 100 schoolchildren protesting in 1979 against being forced to buy uniforms made in a factory owned by Bokassa's wife.

The court acquitted Bokassa on charges of cannibalism and procuring human bodies for cannibalistic purposes.