Zimbabwe drops treason case against Tsvangirai

HARARE - Zimbabwe's government yesterday withdrew its remaining treason case against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who last year was acquitted of separate charges of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe.

"The state is withdrawing charges before plea," state lawyer Florence Ziyambi said at a hearing in Harare magistrate's court.

Ziyambi did not give any reason for the decision to drop the case, which involved charges that Tsvangirai sought to topple Mugabe's government through street protests in June 2003.

Last October the High Court found Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), not guilty of plotting to assassinate Mugabe and seize power before 2002 presidential elections the veteran leader won amid charges of vote rigging.

The state later applied to the Supreme Court to challenge the acquittal, but subsequently dropped the appeal. Conviction on a treason charge could have brought a death penalty.

Asked why he believed the government had dropped the second treason case, Tsvangirai's laywer Eric Matinenga told journalists: "Because he never committed a crime, and obviously someone has seen sense."

Matinenga hinted the state could bring back the charges against Tsvangirai if it so wished, but added: "I don't think anyone with sense would dare."

Tsvangirai declined to comment outside the courthouse..

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party won two-thirds of the vote in parliamentary elections in March which both the MDC and several Western powers said were rigged.

Mugabe has rejected the charges and says the MDC's poor showing reflected its waning popularity among the electorate.

Efforts to restart talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF have foundered, deepening a political crisis in the southern African country which has seen Mugabe's government branded as an "outpost of tyranny" by the United States.

The first treason case against Tsvangirai rested on a secretly taped video of a meeting in Canada between the opposition leader and political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe, at which prosecutors said Mugabe's "elimination" was discussed.

But High Court Judge Paddington Garwe said the prosecution had not shown beyond reasonable doubt that Tsvangirai sought Mugabe's assassination and a coup d'etat.

Formed in 1999, the MDC enjoys overwhelming support in urban areas whose residents have borne the brunt of an economic crisis critics blame on mismanagement by Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe dismisses the MDC as a puppet of the former colonial ruler, which he says has spearheaded a Western propaganda campaign against his government, and sabotaged Zimbabwe's economy in retaliation for his drive to forcibly redistribute white-owned farms among blacks.

Critics say disruptions to agriculture linked to the land seizures have contributed to chronic food shortages in the last five years, compounding a crisis also shown in foreign currency and fuel crunches, as well as record unemployment and inflation.

- REUTERS

 

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