Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Withdrawal of treason charge ploy to divert attention from crisis, says Tsvangirai

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HARARE - Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday said the government's withdrawal of treason charges against him was a ploy to divert attention away from worsening economic problems threatening the country with total collapse.

Tsvangirai said President Robert Mugabe and his government had "seen the light" in scrapping a second treason charge against him for organising mass anti-government protests in 2003.

But the opposition leader, who was last year acquitted by the High Court of treason after the state accused him of attempting to assassinate Mugabe, this afternoon told journalists in Harare that the government had dropped the treason charge only as "an attempt to divert attention from issues affecting the nation."

Under Zimbabwean law, treason carries the death penalty or at the very least lengthy imprisonment.

Tsvangirai, whose opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party poses the greatest threat to Mugabe and his ZANU PF party's 25-year rule in Zimbabwe, refused to comment on whether regional leaders particularly South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki might have helped influence Harare to drop charges against him.

But some analysts observed that the state had a weak case that it was unlikely to win conviction against Tsvangirai and may have opted to rather gain political mileage by scrapping the charge and portray itself as moving to ease political tension in Zimbabwe.

University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku said: "This might be an attempt by Mugabe to win the sympathy of the region and the world by acting as if he is doing something (to ease Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis)."

"But in reality he is doing nothing. There is need to address issues such the constitution and the melting economy and the humanitarian crises inflicted by Operation Murambatsvina that has left more than half a million people homeless," added Madhuku, who is chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly that campaigns for a new and democratic constitution for Zimbabwe.

Mbeki is reported to have indicated to Mugabe two weeks ago that he will have to implement wide-ranging economic and political reforms including resuming negotiations with Tsvangirai and his MDC for a political settlement to Zimbabwe's crisis before Pretoria could financially assist Harare.

Mugabe has asked Mbeki for US$1 billion loan to buy food and fuel critically needed in Zimbabwe. The South African leader, long criticised for refusing to publicly censure Mugabe, has indicated willingness to bail out Harare but subject to some conditions.

The treason charge withdrawn against Tsvangirai earlier today arose after he called countrywide demonstrations by supporters of his MDC party which the government said were an attempt to unconstitutionally remove it from power.

In the first treason case against the former trade unionist-turned-politician, the state accused Tsvangirai of hiring a shadowy Canadian-based political consultancy firm to help organise the murder of Mugabe before a presidential election in March 2002.

But High Court Judge President Paddington Garwe, in a surprise judgment last October, dismissed the state's case for lack of convincing evidence.

Tsvangirai accuses the government of selectively applying the law to persecute him and supporters of his MDC party. The government denies the charge. - ZimOnline