Mugabe overturns arms case ruling

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PRESIDENT ROBERT Mugabe of Zimbabwe, having acknowledged publicly for the first time this week that his regime is riddled with corruption, yesterday intervened in a court case to prevent the prison conditions of three Americans held in the country from being eased.

Mr Mugabe overturned a court ruling ordering authorities to allow John Dixon, 36, Gary Blanchard, 34, and Joseph Pettijohn, 35, to confer among themselves and with their lawyers before and during their trial on weapons charges. The trial was abruptly adjourned to an unspecified date after lawyers protested that the restrictions imposed on the three at Chikurubi prisonprevented the men from receiving a fair trial.

Mugabe's decree, using his sweeping presidential powers, said prisons' security was a matter of "executive discretion".

The men, who say they aremissionaries for a US-based Pentecostal church group, are being tried on charges that they possessed war weapons and tried to smuggle some of them on board an aircraft. They were arrested after a gun set off a metal detector at Zimbabwe's international airport on 7 March.

The men's lawyers said that they had been transporting the weapons to the US after they closed their Congo mission.