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Heated Testimony Erupts in Tsvangirai Trial - 2003-02-07

The defense has begun cross-examination of the state's star witness in the treason trial of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Two top officials of his Movement for Democratic Change party are also being tried. Testimony was heated on the fourth day of the trial in Harare.

There was drama in the court as a prosecution witness argued with the defense attorney.

The attorney, George Bizos, accused the witness of taking $7 million from the Zambian government in a grain deal, but not delivering the grain. The witness, Ari Ben Menashe, who says he is a former Israeli intelligence agent, accused the lawyer of introducing matters that had no bearing on the trial. The judge ruled the lawyer was asking what he called rightful questions and Mr. Menashe had to answer them.

Then, Mr. Menashe repeatedly interrupted Mr. Bizos' questions and would not answer with a simple yes or no. At one point Mr. Menashe shouted at Mr. Bizos and was told by the judge to address the bench instead of looking at the attorney.

Clashes between the two men followed the conclusion of a key part of the prosecution's case. Both sides agreed to view only selected sections of a videotape showing Mr. Menashe meeting with the main defendant, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

After viewing of the videotape, the state prosecutor asked Mr. Menashe to summarize the purpose of the meeting. He said the opposition had asked his political consultancy firm, Dickens and Madson, to help with the assassination of President Robert Mugabe and the staging of a military coup.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Bizos pressed Mr. Menashe on the use of the word "eliminate" on the videotape. At one point, Mr. Menashe said English is not his first language, but he said he understood that in the context it was used during the meeting, it referred to the murder of the president.

Mr. Tsvangirai and his co-defendants have denied plotting to assassinate President Mugabe.

Before court adjourned, the defense presented documents that it says are very relevant to the case and should form the core of Mr. Bizos' cross-examination when it resumes Friday.