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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 02:55 GMT
Court clears way for Mugabe opponent
Mr Tsvangirai  (left)
Mr Tsvangirai is now free to run for president
Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has declared he will run in presidential elections next year after the country's supreme court cleared him of charges of terrorism and sabotage.

I was in no doubt that whatever the decision was I wanted to serve my country

Morgan Tsvangirai
MDC leader
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), greeted the court's ruling that the charges contravened sections of the constitution as a "welcome relief".

If Mr Tsvangirai had been convicted and forced to serve a jail sentence, he could have been prevented from standing in next year's elections.

He confirmed that he would now be seeking to end the 21-year rule of President Robert Mugabe in next year's elections.

The court decision will be welcomed by government critics who fear that intimidation and a series of new appointments have swung the judiciary behind the government.

Unanimous decision

The Supreme Court found unanimously that the charges contravened the section of the constitution stating that a person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven or pleaded guilty.

Zimbabwean voters
Presidential polls are due early next year
The charges related to a speech Mr Tsvangirai made at an MDC rally last September, in which he said Mr Mugabe could be removed from office by violent means if he did not go peacefully.

Mr Tsvangirai later withdrew his statement. He had described the charges as politically motivated.

According to Reuters news agency, the judges agreed by a four to one majority that the charges also contravened section 20 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression.

Zimbabwe's judges have frequently ruled against Mr Mugabe in the past, earning them the wrath of the authorities.

But four judges were forced to resign this year and several new appointments were seen as sympathetic to Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

Politically sensitive

The ruling on Mr Tsvangirai is one of the first politically sensitive decisions to have been made in the wake of the new appointments.

Former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay
Gubbay was forced to resign
It will go some way to allaying fears that the judiciary has finally bowed to government threats and insults.

Despite the ruling, Mr Tsvangirai said that the Zimbabwean judiciary still had to prove its credibility as an independent body.

Zimbabwe's most senior judge, Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, was forced to resign earlier this year after he was told his safety could no longer be guaranteed.

Mr Gubbay, who is white, was also accused of being a "colonial relic".

He was replaced in March by Godfrey Chidyausiku, a former deputy minister in Mr Mugabe's cabinet.

The BBC's Barnaby Philips
"Mugabe will do everything he can to ensure he stands a good chance"
See also:

12 Oct 01 | Africa
Mugabe opponent attacked
06 Oct 01 | Africa
Judge condemns Zimbabwe 'terror'
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