September 12, 2019 / 7:12 AM / 9 days ago

Trial of accused Christchurch gunman delayed in New Zealand to avoid Ramadan

FILE PHOTO: A policeman stands guard as members of the Muslim community visit Al-Noor mosque after it was reopened in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The trial of a man accused of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people has been delayed by a month because the original court date coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a judge said on Thursday.

A lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island on March 15, in the country’s worst peace-time mass shooting. The attacker broadcast the shooting live on Facebook.

Australian man Brenton Tarrant, 29, a suspected white supremacist, has pleaded not guilty to 92 charges against him including murder and terrorism.

A trial was scheduled to begin on May 4, 2020, but High Court judge Cameron Mander said prosecutors had notified the court that “difficulties have arisen with the trial date because it clashes with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan which occurs over the month of May next year”.

“A number of the witnesses to be called at trial are of the Islamic faith,” Mander added in a statement issued by the court.

Tarrant’s defense team had agreed to the delay and the trial would begin on June 2, he said.

New Zealand’s Muslim community had criticized the justice system for the time taken to bring the accused man to trial, and for holding it during Ramadan.

Prosecutors have said they expected the trial will take about six weeks, although Mander has said defense lawyers believe it could take longer.

(This story was refiled to delete extraneous word in headline)

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Robert Birsel

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