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Zimbabwe's Bishop Abel Muzorewa Dies

Bishop Abel Muzorewa, member of executive council and leader of UANC, shows voters how to vote by signing a cross near crest of his party during Rhodesian general elections, 19 Apr 1979

Bishop Abel Muzorewa, leader of a brief interim administration which paved the way for Zimbabwe's independence elections that swept President Robert Mugabe into power has died at his Harare home at the age of 85.

Muzorewa, a Methodist bishop, joined the government of the short-lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in a deal with Ian Smith, the last white prime minister.

The deal included moderate black leaders who were opposed to the armed independence struggle.

But the administration was short-lived. The settlement was rejected by ZANU and PF ZAPU -- movements which continued with the armed struggle. The elections also were not internationally recognized and the United Nations said the polls in 1979 were illegal.

The British government then pressured Muzorewa to participate in the Lancaster House negotiations which led to fresh elections and independence in 1980.

A settlement was reached which produced a constitution and a cease-fire.

In the 1980 elections, Bishop Muzorewa's party won only three parliamentary seats to 57 won by Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Mr. Mugabe became prime minister of independent Zimbabwe on April 18.

After independence, Bishop Muzorewa was arrested and accused of plotting against Mr. Mugabe. He was later released and the charges were dropped.

He was seldom seen in public in Zimbabwe in the last few years and formally retired from politics in 2001. He lived quietly in an upmarket suburb north of the Harare city center.

Although reviled by ZANU-PF, many political analysts say that Bishop Muzorewa's brief internal settlement with Ian Smith was a useful transition towards majority black rule.