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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 18:00 GMT
Mugabe rival charged with treason
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai outside the court in Harare
Mr Tsvangirai describes the move as 'harassment'
Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been released on bail after being formally charged with treason in a court in the capital, Harare.

He was ordered to pay 1.5 million Zimbabwean dollars (around $27,000), and surrender deeds to property and his passport.


This particular appearance is just continued harassment of Mr Tsvangirai and senior members of his party

Defence lawyer Eric Matinenga
Mr Tsvangirai denies plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe, who defeated him in a presidential election 10 days ago that was marked by allegations of vote rigging and intimidation.

But Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, said that nobody was above the law - Mr Tsvangirai had to answer the charges against him.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips says the charge destroys any immediate prospect of reconciliation between government and opposition.

'Harassment'

The shadow lands and agriculture minister for Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Renson Gasela, was also charged with treason.

Mr Tsvangirai's deputy, Welshman Ncube, was charged and granted bail the day before the election, which Mr Mugabe officially won with 56% of the vote.

The three opposition politicians were ordered to appear in court on 30 April.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard - one of the Commonwealth leaders who announced Zimbabwe's suspension on Tuesday - had described the prosecution of the opposition leader as damaging to the process of reconciliation in the country.

And Mr Tsvangirai's lawyer, Eric Matinenga, described the court appearance as "continued harassment" and "a knee-jerk reaction to the events that unfolded yesterday in London".

Reconciliation

Mr Tsvangirai's summons came after another Commonwealth leader, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, told the BBC that the governing and opposition parties in Zimbabwe had agreed to discuss a plan put forward by the Commonwealth to resolve the political crisis.

Robert Mugabe
Tsvangirai denies plotting to kill Mugabe
Mr Obasanjo said this envisaged setting up a coalition government to promote reconciliation, with a new election to be held at an unspecified future date.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he hoped a process of national reconciliation would develop during Zimbabwe's suspension.

"The news this morning of the further detention of Morgan Tsvangirai on these treason charges suggests that this message has yet to get across," he said.

Secret video

The treason charge against Mr Tsvangirai carries a possible death penalty.


Commonwealth observers' findings

  • High level of politically motivated violence and intimidation
  • Zanu-PF's paramilitary youth group largely responsible for intimidation
  • Restrictions on independent local observers
  • Lack of transparency in the registration process
  • Polling stations reduced in urban areas
  • Many unable to vote in Harare and Chitungwiza because process was too slow
  • Limitations on freedom of speech and movement hampered opposition campaign


  • The MDC leader says the charges, based on a videotape which purports to show him discussing the assassination of Mr Mugabe with a political consultant, were fabricated to try to remove him from the political scene.

    The allegations against Mr Tsvangirai were made by a Canadian political consultancy, Dickens and Madson, headed by former Israeli intelligence officer and Mugabe lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe.

    But there have been suggestions the videotape was heavily edited.

    Wednesday saw a lukewarm response to a call by Zimbabwe trade unions for a three-day general strike - the first public test of opposition support since the election.

    Police have declared the action illegal.

    It has been launched in protest at what the unions say is harassment of pro-opposition workers since Mr Mugabe won a fifth term of office.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Rageh Omaar
    President Mugabe seems quite determined to see off all his opponents"
    MDC spokesman Lengmore Jongwe
    "Zanu PF in our view is travelling on the path of retribution"
    Collen Gwiyo of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
    "I would say 50% of the workforce have remained at home"

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    See also:

    20 Mar 02 | Africa
    20 Mar 02 | Africa
    20 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
    26 Feb 02 | Africa
    26 Feb 02 | Africa
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