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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 18:26 GMT
Mugabe opponent accused of treason
Morgan Tsvangirai
Tsvangirai denies the allegations
Zimbabwe's main opposition leader says he is to face charges of high treason - an offence punishable by death - over an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Morgan Tsvangirai's lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said his client was released after being questioned at central Harare police station for two hours and told he would be summoned at a later date.

If a crime was committed in December, why wait until three weeks before the election?

Morgan Tsvangirai
The accusations against Mr Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are based on a mysterious videotape broadcast on Australian television.

"The charge was that I had committed treason and that they would like to find out from me what I had to say," Mr Tsvangirai said. "Of course I denied that completely."

He added that he believed that police would not proceed with a prosecution before the election.

In a statement UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described the charges as a "disturbing development" and said he would discuss what he called the harassment of Zimbabwe's opposition with colleagues on Friday, the eve of the Commonwealth summit in Australia.

"Coming just days before the presidential elections, it looks like yet another attempt by the Mugabe regime to obstruct the conduct of the election and the ability of the people of Zimbabwe to choose, freely and fairly, who should lead them," he said.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai said sanctions had come too late
Morgan Tsvangirai
  • Organised strikes as leader of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
  • Set up MDC in September 1999
  • Led MDC to win 57 seats in June 2000 elections

    Click here for a profile of Morgan Tsvangirai

  • The BBC's Hilary Andersson says the affair's implications for Zimbabwe's elections are very serious, as the political temperature is already heated and many Zimbabweans will see this as an attempt by the government to ensure its key opponent does not win.

    Meanwhile, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the leader of a South African mission observing the presidential election campaign, has asked for police protection following attacks on her staff on Sunday.

    Witnesses said supporters of Mr Mugabe ambushed opposition supporters leaving a campaign rally in the president's home town, Chinhoyi. They stoned vehicles, including a minibus carrying the observers.

    Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said she did not blame Mr Mugabe's supporters for the incident, in which Mr Tsvangirai's own vehicle is said to have narrowly escaped stoning.

    "It is very early for the delegation to make a judgement as to the fairness and freeness of the poll," she said. "This one incident has not led us to a conclusion as to whether the election will be free and fair."

    Secret film

    State television - widely seen as a government propaganda machine - has been making great play of the alleged assassination plot.

    Morgan Tsvangirai
    Ari Ben-Menashe had talks with Zimbabwe police
    The allegations were made by a Canadian political consultancy, Dickens and Madson, headed by former Israeli intelligence officer and Mugabe lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe.

    Mr Ben-Menashe says he was approached by Mr Tsvangirai, who wanted Mr Mugabe "eliminated".

    A meeting with Mr Tsvangirai last December was filmed, but the MDC leader denies discussing the assassination of Mr Mugabe.

    He says it is a government plot to frame him ahead of the election on 9-10 March.

    "If a crime was committed in December, why wait until three weeks before the election?" he said.

    A video timing clock was not erased from a poor-quality copy of the recording broadcast on state television, showing that the original secret tape had been heavily edited and even "rearranged", according to the Mass Media Project of Zimbabwe, an independent media monitoring group.

    Last year, charges of treason against Mr Tsvangirai were dropped after a court ruled them unconstitutional.


    Newspaper reports have meanwhile been published suggesting that Mr Mugabe has agreed to flee Zimbabwe if he loses the election.

    Robert Mugabe
    Mugabe: Private polls suggest he could lose
    Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly broached the subject with Mr Tsvangirai at a late-night meeting last month.

    Mr Obasanjo invited the MDC leader to State House, but Mr Mugabe was not present, according to the reports.

    Mr Tsvangirai is said to have agreed to go only after his security was guaranteed by the Nigerian president.

    "Pointing to a portrait of Mr Mugabe on the wall, [Mr Obasanjo] asked: 'What are you going to do about him if you win?' ", according to a diplomat quoted in the Times of London.

    Mr Tsvangirai reportedly said that Zimbabwe's leader would be allowed to leave "with dignity", along with his family.

    Mr Mugabe asked Mr Obasanjo to make the overtures after his private polling suggested he could lose the election, according to The Times.

    The BBC's Hilary Andersson
    "The grainy video appears to have been heavily edited"
    The BBC's Rageh Omaar
    "Mr Tsvangirai was secretly filmed"
    Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe opposition leader
    "Its part of the orchestrated campaign against me"
    See also:

    24 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe observers undaunted
    23 Feb 02 | Africa
    Mugabe banned from US travel
    06 Feb 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe's climate of fear
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