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Tsvangirai Treason Trial Ends in Zimbabwe - 2004-02-26

The treason trial of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is accused of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, has ended after more than a year. On the final day of Mr. Tsvangirai's trial for treason, High Court Judge Paddington Garwe turned down the prosecution's request to include new facts in its final statement. Much of the day was devoted to arguments over legal points related to treason.

The state's case against the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change rests on evidence from three meetings he had with Canadian businessman Ari Ben Menashe. Those meetings, Mr. Ben Menashe testified, were devoted to discussing a plot to assassinate President Mugabe and overthrow his government.

But Mr. Tsvangirai denied the charge, saying he hired the businessman to help raise money and lobby for the MDC in North America. Mr. Tsvangirai said he was duped into believing that Mr. Ben Menashe was an influential power-broker with access to the highest government offices in the United States and Canada.

In fact, Mr. Ben Menashe, whose firm's clients included the Mugabe government, had no high-level contacts in North America.

The defense argued in its final statement that two witnesses were needed for proof of treason, but the state contended there were circumstances in which that was not obligatory. Judge Garwe, who has a record of slow deliberation in political cases, is expected to take several months to deliver his verdict.

Until he does, Mr. Tsvangirai will remain free on bail. But his passport has been confiscated by the police and he will not get it back until the judgment has been rendered.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader faces another set of treason charges related to his role in last year's general strike that shut down much of Zimbabwe's economy.