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Lawyers for Zimbabwe Opposition Leader to Contest Treason Charge - 2003-06-07


Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is charged with treason, was taken to court by police on Saturday, but his case was postponed until Monday. Mr. Tsvangirai's lawyers said they were going to demand that the treason charge be thrown out of court for lack of evidence.

Harare's magistrates court was surrounded by riot police early Saturday, ahead of Mr. Tsvangirai's arrival. But before formal charges could be lodged, his defense team said the case could not proceed because the courtroom had no tape recording equipment.

The result is that Mr. Tsvangirai is to spend the weekend in a police cell, to appear again in court on Monday. He was arrested on Friday shortly after addressing journalists and diplomats at the end of five days of protests and a national strike called by the Movement for Democratic Change that he leads.

Police say Mr. Tsvangirai has completed a statement, denying the treason charge. Lawyers said Saturday the charge against him is without foundation, as the state has produced no quotes to prove that Mr. Tsvangirai called for the overthrow of President Robert Mugabe.

The state insists that he did this, in May, at two public rallies he held in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, and in Mutare, on the border with Mozambique.

Mr. Tsvangirai is no stranger to prison. He has been arrested several times over the last 14 years, and there have been several attempts on his life.

Meanwhile, President Mugabe has reacted strongly to the strike that virtually paralyzed Zimbabwe's industry and shut down many commercial enterprises. He told villagers in rural Zimbabwe that there would be "retribution" in the coming weeks against businesses, which closed down, and against schools, which failed to open.

At a state funeral on Saturday, Mr. Mugabe accused British and United States diplomats stationed in Zimbabwe of assisting the opposition's protests.

He said the two countries were acting, in his words, "illegally on our soil. I warn that their instigations cannot be tolerated forever by my government."

Mr. Tsvangirai heads the first political party to seriously challenge Mr. Mugabe's 23-year rule, and he has accused it of being a puppet of the British.

After police and the army cracked down on demonstrators last Monday, Mr. Mugabe said action against protesters was regrettable but necessary to maintain peace and security.

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