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Plot to kill Malawian bishops

Zomba (Reuter) - Three former Malawian cabinet ministers and two other politicians were charged yesterday with conspiracy to murder Roman Catholic bishops who had spoken out on human-rights abuses in the country.

The five pleaded not guilty to the charge that they plotted in 1992 to kill Archbishop James Chiona and six other bishops who had accused the former "President for Life", Hastings Kamuzu Banda, of gross abuses during his autocratic rule.

Police said that the then-ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) held an emergency meeting in which the five resolved to kill the bishops. The clerics were detained and interrogated, but were later freed.

Mr Banda, who lost power in last year's multi-party elections, his close associate John Tembo and three senior policemen have been charged with the murders of four politicians in 1983.

Mr Tembo, a former minister of state, was among the five charged yesterday. The others were the former ministers Watson Deleza and Eliya Phiri and two MCP party colleagues, Hilda Manjankhosi and Charles Kamphulusa. The prosecutor said evidence would include tape recordings of the meeting where the plot was discussed. The trial was postponed to 20 July.

Last week the state dropped the charges against four of the accused, but reinstated them yesterday in front of a new judge. The defence had argued that the first judge to hear the charges was biased.