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Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai Could Face Death Penalty - 2002-03-20


Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been formally charged with treason. He may face the death penalty.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared before a magistrate to be formally charged with treason. A party spokesman says Mr. Tsvangirai was released on bail of $1.5 million Zimbabwean or about $5,000.

The treason charges against him stem from an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

The opposition leader has denied the charges. His lawyer says the case is aimed at harassing Mr. Tsvangirai and other senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC.

An MDC member of parliament, Renson Gasela, was charged alongside Mr. Tsvangirai. Party Secretary-General Welshman Ncube was charged last week. Both men are currently free on bail.

The maximum penalty for treason in Zimbabwe is death.

Mr. Tsvangirai faced the charges less than a day after the Commonwealth group of nations announced that it was suspending Zimbabwe for one year, in the wake of concerns over the legitimacy of this month's disputed presidential election.

The opposition leader's court appearance also came on the first day of a general strike called by his party to challenge the election results.

Mr. Tsvangirai was the main challenger to Mr. Mugabe in the presidential poll. Although election officials declared Mr. Mugabe the winner by a wide margin, Mr. Tsvangirai has refused to accept the results and alleges there was massive rigging by the ruling party, ZANU PF.

The Commonwealth observer mission said the election was deeply fraught with violence and intimidation, mainly at the hands of ZANU PF supporters. The observers' interim report said the poll did not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.

A government spokesman dismissed the Commonwealth suspension. He told state television the move was based on what he called a heavily opinionated and one-sided report by the observer team.

The government spokesman also dismissed the general strike as "a desperate act by the opposition."

The government has declared the strike illegal, but trade union officials insist the Zimbabwean constitution gives them the right to call a work stoppage.

The stay-away was only marginally successful on its first day. Reports from Harare say some businesses closed their doors, but others remained open despite a slightly reduced workforce. Most government offices, post offices and schools appeared unaffected.

The strike is scheduled to continue for three days. Trade union officials say they expect a better response on Thursday and Friday.

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