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The gruesome incident occurred on the street outside the building where the ex-president and current White House hopeful sat on the 15th floor. Image Credit: Pexels

New York: A man set himself on fire Friday outside the courthouse where at almost the same moment, full jury selection was completed in the unprecedented criminal trial of Donald Trump.

It was not clear whether the self-immolation had anything to do with Trump's case, but the gruesome incident occurred on the street outside the building where the ex-president and current White House hopeful sat on the 15th floor.

The full jury of 12 New Yorkers and six alternates had just been completed when live television images suddenly turned to smoke gushing from what was reported to be a person on fire.

A policeman could be seen hurrying with a fire extinguisher and CNN's reporter said there was a heavy stench of burning flesh and fuel.

"A male did light himself on fire outside of the Supreme Courthouse. We're still gathering details from the field," said a New York Police Department spokesman.

The fire appeared to be located at a park opposite the 100 Centre Street courthouse, an area used by authorities to hold both pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters, as well as by some members of the media.

Judge Juan Merchan has said opening arguments in Trump's trial would start Monday if jury selection had been finished.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of business fraud as part of a scheme to cover up hush money paid to a porn star so that the story would not come out just before the 2016 presidential election, in which he beat Hillary Clinton.

The difficulty of choosing jurors who will be impartial when judging one of the most controversial men in the country - and also able to set aside as much as two months of their time - has been clear throughout the selection process this week.

Two women in the pool of dozens of ordinary New Yorkers being vetted for the final jury slots Friday burst into tears as they answered probing questions from attorneys.

"I'm sorry. I thought I could do this," said one who was quickly released by Merchan. "This is so much more stressful than I thought it was going to be."

Trump arrived in court and delivered an angry statement about what he called the "very unfair" partial gag order imposed by Merchan to prevent him from using his powerful media presence to attack witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

"The judge has to take off this gag order," said Trump, who has a long history, including while president, of making threatening or insulting statements against private and public opponents.

The court proceedings have disrupted Trump's 2024 campaigning plans, but he has tried to use the press coverage to relay his claim to be the victim of a "hoax." On Saturday, he will hold a rally in North Carolina.

The Republican tycoon faces three other criminal cases, including on far more serious charges of attempting to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, but these have been repeatedly delayed.

Tight race against Biden

Trump has framed his multiple legal woes as an attempt by his political opponents to thwart his bid to return to power. Latest polls show him largely neck and neck with Biden.

In the trial in New York, Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records on the eve of his 2016 election victory to hide an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels.

Potential jurors were this week grilled by prosecutors and defense attorneys about their media habits, political donations, education and whether they have attended a pro- or anti-Trump rally.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying they could not be impartial.

One juror who had already been sworn in was excused because she had concerns her identity had been revealed, and another was let go following doubts about the accuracy of his answers during questioning.

To protect the anonymity of the New Yorkers randomly selected for jury service, Merchan asked reporters to stop providing physical descriptions of jurors and not to identify where they work.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered by the judge to attend each day of the trial.

If convicted, he could face prison but would more likely be fined.