BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) _ The trial of Malawi's ousted dictator on charges that he ordered the killings of four political associates was adjoured today so a doctor could determine if he was strong enough to come to court.

Kamuza Banda, who is in his 90s, has been under house arrest since January on charges he ordered the four killed in 1983. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Human rights groups hope the trial of one of Africa's last old-style dictators will purge bitter memories of disappearances and torture among this southern African country's 8 million people.

Banda's physician today told the court his client was not fit to appear because of high blood pressure.

Chief prosecutor Kamudoni Nyasulu said a government physician would have to verify Banda's condition, and Judge Mackson Mkandawire agreed to an adjournment so an examination could be done.

More than 2,000 people waited outside the colonial-style High Court building, which was guarded by police and army units.

Banda lost democratic elections last May, the first since he led the tiny, impoverished nation to independence from Britain in 1964. The elections were held only after anti-government riots and an aid freeze by Western donors.

During his decades in power, Banda turned from a benign tribal elder to an increasingly oppressive potentate. Thousands of political opponents were killed, tortured, jailed without trial or hounded into exile.

Banda was expected to plead innocent to eight counts of murder and conspiracy to murder.

Longtime companion Cecilia Kadzamira and former Police Minister John Tembo also are charged in the deaths of the three government ministers and a Parliament member.

Banda and Tembo were arrested Jan. 4 after a commission appointed by President Bakili Muluzi ruled they ordered the killings.

The commission ruled that Dick Matange, Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala and David Chiwanga were beaten to death with hammers and clubs by police. Their bodies were left in a car wreck to make the deaths look like an accident.

Kadzamira and several police officers were arrested last month.