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Tsvangirai Trial Enters Final Phase in Zimbabwe - 2004-02-24

The treason trial of Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai entered its final stage with the prosecution and defense making their closing arguments. The prosecutors are calling for Mr. Tsvangirai's conviction on charges of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and seize power before the 2002 presidential elections.

The lawyer for the defense, George Bizos told the court the case against his client is based on unreliable evidence. He argued Zimbabwe's law requires the prosecution to prove that Mr. Tsvangirai plotted to assassinate the president and seize control of the government. The evidence presented by the state, the defense said, failed to make such proof.

The opposition leader was arrested three months before the 2002 presidential elections, along with his two top aides who were later acquitted. In what has become the longest criminal trial in Zimbabwe's history, the state charged Mr. Tsvangirai with hiring a Canadian firm to carry out the assassination. The prosecution presented clandestine film footage of meetings in which the plot was allegedly discussed. Head of the firm, Ari Ben Menashe, became the prosecutors' key witness.

But Mr. Tsvangirai denied all the charges and testified he was duped by Mr. Ben Menashe into believing that he was a well-connected power broker in North America, and hired the firm to lobby and raise money for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The defense lawyer sought to discredit Mr. Ben Menashe, saying he had contradicted himself and lied repeatedly.

Closing arguments are expected to end Wednesday. Mr. Tzvangirai, if convicted, could face the death penalty.