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Thursday, March 26, 1998 Published at 16:22 GMT

World: Africa

Zimbabwe's ex-president to stand trial
image: [ Banana - to stand trial on 11 counts of homosexual assault ]
Banana - to stand trial on 11 counts of homosexual assault

The Supreme Court in Harare has overruled an appeal by a former president of Zimbabwe, Canaan Banana, who now faces charges of homosexual assault.

Three judges rejected Mr Banana's contention that months of pre-trial publicity in Zimbabwe - where the current president Robert Mugabe has launched a series of anti-homosexuality diatribes - would stop him from getting a fair trial.

Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay described Banana as a "newsworthy" figure and said media reports about him were a sign of the times.

The five Supreme Court judges were unanimous in finding that Banana would receive a fair trial before the High Court in Harare.

He faces 11 charges, following allegations that he forced bodyguards and other staff to have homosexual relations with him.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Zimbabwe and carry a possible prison term of up to 10 years.

Mr Banana, who is 62, has dismissed the accusations as lies and character assassination.

His trial began last September but was adjourned pending the appeal.

Canaan Banana, a Methodist minister, academic and former diplomat, served in a ceremonial role as Zimbabwe's first black president for seven years after independence in 1980.

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