August 15, 2019 / 12:37 AM / 3 days ago

Man accused of New Zealand mosque attack seeks to move trial from Christchurch

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Reuters) - Lawyers for the man accused of shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people in March have asked for the trial to be moved from the southern city of Christchurch, where the attacks took place, a judge said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Brenton Tarrant, charged for murder in relation to the mosque attacks, is seen in the dock during his appearance in the Christchurch District Court, New Zealand March 16, 2019. Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald/Pool via REUTERS

A hearing on the request to move the trial to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, will be held on Oct. 3 and the defendant, Australian Brenton Tarrant, would be held in custody until then, High Court Justice Cameron Mander said at a hearing.

Defence counsel did not respond immediately to a request for comment about why they asked for a change of venue.

A lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island on March 15, killing 51 people in the country’s worst peace-time mass shooting. The attacker broadcast the shooting live on Facebook.

Tarrant, 29, has pleaded not guilty to all 92 charges against him.

Tarrant did not appear via video-link as he had at previous court hearings. Mander said in a court minute Tarrant was excused from appearing because the hearing was mainly about legal arguments.

The suspected white supremacist is in custody at a high- security prison in Auckland, about a 90-minute flight from Christchurch.

The court hearing was attended by around 40 members of the public, including survivors of the attack, although there were fewer than at previous court appearances.

Prosecution lawyers said they were making inquiries about the possibility of delaying the trial, which has been set down for May 4, by three or four weeks.

The trial date set down in June has been criticised for coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims will be fasting.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Praveen Menon and Paul Tait

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