Disappointing many South Africans who wanted to see one of apartheid's harshest leaders submit to cross-examination, lawyers for former President P.W. Botha began closing arguments in his contempt trial Monday without calling him or anyone else to the witness stand.

Botha, 82, is on trial for repeatedly refusing to appear before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which wants to question him about his role in atrocities committed under his leadership.But the frail Botha, who sits in court on a specially padded chair beside the dock, has called the commission investigating South Africa's brutal past a "circus" that he will not submit to.

In arguing his case, his lawyers intend to lean heavily on potential technical faults in the subpoena. Privately, they say that if the subpoena is thrown out, it is unlikely that the commission or the prosecutor will be interested in trying the case again.

But they were unable to finish in the one day allotted to them, so the case was adjourned until Aug. 17. A ruling is expected the next day.

The prosecution of Botha has been contentious, with many whites complaining that it is simply a vengeful act against an old man.

During the eight-day trial, the prosecution called more than a half dozen witnesses trying to make clear that the commission had good reason to want to question Botha. One witness was pres-ent when a church building was blown up. Botha, who was in office from 1978 to 1989, is accused of having ordered the explosion.

Botha's lawyers are trying to argue that the commission was biased against Botha in issuing the subpoena in the first place. They intend to highlight statements that various members of the commission have made, which they believe show a prejudice toward their client.