JOHANNESBURG, 2 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now a "free man" after treason charges against him were dropped on Tuesday.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader was also acquitted last year of separate charges of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told IRIN the treason case "could not be sustained in terms of the legal process - there was no way they could have sustained the charges".
He alleged that withdrawing the charge was "a ploy by the government to divert attention away from the [UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna] Tibaijuka report" on Zimbabwe's controversial Operation Murambatsvina ('Drive out Filth').
The cleanup campaign, in which up to 700,000 people were evicted from informal homes, was slated by Tibaijuka as a "disastrous venture" carried out with "indifference to human suffering" that had created a humanitarian crisis.
For the first time in years Tsvangirai no longer has any outstanding charges hanging over his head. "As far as we are concerned he is now a free man, free to discharge his party duties," Nyathi commented.
Tsvangirai said the litany of charges he had faced in recent years was meant to "divert attention from the issues confronting our nation" and the frequent calls for talks between the MDC and the ruling party ZANU-PF.
Political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition was one of the recommendations Tibaijuka made in her report.
However, Mugabe has shrugged off pressure to reopen talks with the MDC. On Monday the official Herald newspaper quoted him as saying that "anyone who seeks to foster relations with the MDC will be going against our own democratic principles, and we shall resist that". He added that the ruling party would only engage with the opposition in parliament and would not entertain calls for a 'unity' government.
Tsvangirai said "the MDC has never sought to partner ZANU-PF in government" and was "engaged in a genuine form of political competition for power with ZANU-PF, [and has] a right to political space in order to promote our political activities without hindrance".
Against this background, remarks by Mugabe "indicating his resentment" at suggestions for principled dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC were unfortunate, the opposition leader observed.
"The benefits of political dialogue need no particular emphasis, given the dire consequences, political polarisation and humanitarian emergencies that confront us today," Tsvangirai said. "To the ruling elite, we make it clear that there is a huge difference between national dialogue and political accommodation."
Parliament had a constitutional mandate that did not include "the kind of interaction which our neighbours, the international community, local political parties, civil society and other stakeholders engage in from time to time when a nation faces an emergency and a crisis," he pointed out.
Tsvangirai concluded that Zimbabwe's problems were "beyond parliament to tackle, hence the need for an all-inclusive process involving all Zimbabweans".
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