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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Zimbabwe bishop trial collapses
Bishop Nolbert Kunonga
Bishop Nolbert Kunonga is accused of ordering rivals to be killed
The ecclesiastical trial of a Zimbabwean bishop who supports President Robert Mugabe has collapsed before any testimony was given.

The Malawian Supreme Court judge who was presiding said he was withdrawing, after hours of arguments over evidence.

Nolbert Kunonga, the Anglican bishop of Harare, is accused under church law of incitement to murder, intimidation and bringing the church into contempt.

Bishop Kunonga denies the accusations. He faces no criminal charges.

"I believe I will now withdraw as judge of this trial," Judge James Kalaile said, in response to the lengthy disagreements before the trial got under way.

"I have not in my years as a judge in Malawi or elsewhere heard anything like this before."

He was appointed to hear the case by Archbishop Bernard Malanga, head of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which has authority over Zimbabwe.

It is not clear whether a new judge will be named.

One of the accusations against Bishop Kunonga is that he tried to get supporters of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party to kill 10 of his opponents within the diocese.

If found guilty under canon law, he could have been expelled from the church, defrocked or simply reprimanded.

Bishop Kunonga is one of the few senior churchmen in Zimbabwe not to speak out against alleged human rights abuses by the government.


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