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Kenyan doomsday cult leader charged with murder of 191 children

NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie and 29 associates were charged on Tuesday with the murder of 191 children whose bodies were found among more than double that number buried in a forest.

The defendants all denied the charges brought before a court in the coastal town of Malindi. One suspect was found mentally unfit to stand trial.

Prosecutors say Mackenzie ordered his followers to starve themselves and their children to death so that they could go to heaven before the world ended, in one of the world's worst cult-related disasters in recent history.

The followers of his Good News International Church lived in several secluded settlements in an 800-acre area within the Shakahola forest. More than 400 bodies were eventually exhumed.

Mackenzie was arrested last April. He has already been charged with terrorism-related crimes, manslaughter and torture. He was also convicted in December of producing and distributing films without a licence and sentenced to 12 months in jail.

A former taxi driver, Mackenzie forbade cult members from sending their children to school and from going to hospital when they were ill, branding such institutions as Satanic, some of his followers said.

Mackenzie's lawyer has said he is cooperating with the investigation into the deaths. The 30 defendants are due back in court on March 7 for a bond hearing, the judge said.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross, Writing by Bhargav Acharya, Editing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie)