6 June 2003

ZIMBABWE: Tsvangirai arrested on new charge of treason

Police arrested Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday, June 6, and charged him with treason as anti-government protests faltered in the face of a massive show of force by President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was arrested after a news conference in which he vowed to press ahead with protests against Mugabe, whom he accuses of being an illegitimate and increasingly incompetent leader. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said Tsvangirai was being charged with treason in connection with a series of statements since the disputed March 2002 elections that allegedly incited his supporters to seek Mugabe's overthrow. "We picked him up in connection with the many statements he has been making since the presidential elections," Bvudzijena said.

Tsvangirai, who urged Zimbabweans to turn out "in their millions" this week to express their dissatisfaction with Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party, has launched a legal challenge to Mugabe's 2002 election in polls widely decried as fraudulent. Lawyer Innocent Chagonda said Tsvangirai - who is already on trial for treason in connection with an alleged plot on Mugabe's life - would be held until Saturday when he was due to appear before a magistrate. "There is absolutely no basis for the arrest," Chagonda told CNN, adding that Tsvangirai would deny seeking Mugabe's ouster. "The purpose of organising these stayaways and demonstrations was to put pressure on Mugabe and the Zanu PF government to come to the negotiating table with MDC for the purpose of finding a solution to the crisis that has gripped this country," he said. The opposition accuses Mugabe's government of political repression and mismanagement that has left the country's economy in tatters. Tsvangirai was briefly detained on Monday, and government lawyers are now seeking a court order to ban him from making "inflammatory" comments or inciting the public.

On Friday, the last day of a five-day campaign of MDC protests which the government has declared illegal, thousands of young men wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with the words "No to Mass Action" flooded central Harare, apparently to discourage any attempts by MDC protesters to take to the streets. In outlying townships, more young militia members patrolled the streets singing the praises of Zanu PF. Elsewhere in the country, police stopped a handful of people who tried to march in the country's second city of Bulawayo, while another planned MDC protest in southern Masvingo province was reported to have collapsed in the face of heavy security. "There are soldiers, police, paramilitary police and Zanu PF youth brigades everywhere," said Douglas Mwonzora, speaking for the pressure group National Constitutional Assembly. In his news conference, Tsvangirai conceded the bruising response to the protest drive - which began on Monday when riot police used tear gas and rifle butts to disperse protests in several places around the country - had made MDC supporters reluctant to stage open demonstrations. But he described the week-long drive as an overwhelming success and said the opposition would continue the protests. "From now onwards we will embark on rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice and without any warning to the dictatorship," he said. Mugabe, now 79 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says he is being targeted by Western powers and their local proxies angry over his policy of seizing white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks. (ZWNews/ Reuters)

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