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Judge steps down in rape trial of former South Africa deputy president

[JURIST] The trial of former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma [official profile] for rape began in Johannesburg Monday, though proceedings were cut short when presiding Judge Bernard Ngoepe stepped down from the case. The defense had argued that Ngoepe's issuance of search warrants in relation to separate corruption charges Zuma is facing affected the judge's objectivity, but Ngoepe said he withdrew from the trial [Reuters report] not in response to the defense but because he wanted to ensure that the judiciary was beyond reproach in such a key trial.

A popular figure in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) [party website], Zuma was seen as the obvious successor to President Thabo Mbeki [BBC profile] until the conviction of his financial advisor [JURIST report] for corruption prompted his removal from office [JURIST report] last year. Zuma currently faces charges of raping an AIDS activist [JURIST report]. A separate trial on corruption charges [JURIST report] will take place later this year. Zuma denies the charges, claiming they are based on a vendetta of his rivals within the ANC. Reuters has more. South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online has local coverage.

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