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Last Updated: Monday, 4 September 2006, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Court clears Zimbabwe's minister
Patrick Chinamasa
Chinamasa walked free as the state failed to convince the magistrate
Zimbabwe Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has been cleared of trying to pervert the course of justice.

Mr Chinamasa was charged last month with pressuring a man to drop accusations of political violence he made against a cabinet colleague.

A magistrate found that the prosecution had failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt as witnesses' testimony had been unreliable.

The case has been seen as a test of judicial independence in Zimbabwe.

"The [prosecution] has dismally failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and the accused is therefore found not guilty and acquitted," magistrate Phineas Chipokoteke told a court in Rusape, east of Harare.

"A close analysis shows inconsistency and evasiveness in the witnesses' evidence and, as always, evidence from one witness has to be treated with caution," Mr Chipoteke said, quoted by AFP news agency.

Election clashes

Mr Chinamasa was accused of trying to stop a prosecution witness, James Kaunye, from testifying in a case against the Minister of State for National Security, Didymus Mutasa, who had been accused of inciting public violence.

The minister's supporters were allegedly involved in clashes with those who backed Mr Kaunye, a liberation war veteran, ahead of the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Mr Kaunye stood against Mr Mutasa in the primaries for the ruling Zanu-PF party.

Some 23 of Mr Mutasa's supporters are facing similar charges in a high-profile trial.

Early in Mr Chinamasa's trial, proceedings were adjourned for a week when magistrates complained of intimidation and refused to take on the case.

Several judges have resigned in recent years, complaining of political interference.

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