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US Blasts Prosecution of Zimbabwe Legislator

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The State Department Thursday called the terrorism prosecution against Zimbabwean parliament member Roy Bennett a "blatant example" of the absence of rule of law in the African country. U.S. officials are ruling out the provision of anything other than humanitarian aid to the Harare government until President Robert Mugabe accepts meaningful reform.

The Obama administration is condemning the legal action against Roy Bennett in unusually sharp terms and making clear it will not follow Britain's lead in extending new aid to the power-sharing government led by Mr. Mugabe.

Bennett, a founding member and treasurer of the Movement for Democratic Change, the former opposition party that joined Mr. Mugabe in a unity government early this year, was jailed Wednesday and ordered to stand trial on long-pending charges of possessing weapons for terrorism and acts of insurgency.

The MDC led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangerai maintains Bennett's innocence and calls his jailing a deliberate provocation by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party loyalists.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy spokesman Robert Wood said the United States also believes the prosecution of Bennett is without merit.

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"This particular case with regard to Roy Bennett is frankly a blatant example of the absence of the rule of law in Zimbabwe," said Wood. "Frankly, it's a transparent attempt to prevent Bennett from taking up his position as deputy secretary for agriculture. The prosecution has never, as far as I know, presented any credible evidence against him. He's complied with all of the court's requirements. So Mugabe needs to end his harassment of the opposition, including Mr. Bennett," he said.

Despite the legal action against Bennett, the British government said Thursday it is providing a $100 million aid package to Zimbabwe - its largest-ever single donation - to help restore sanitation, health care and other services disrupted by years of political turmoil.

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mike Canning told reporters the formation of the unity government in February was a significant step and that Britain wants it to succeed.

But under questioning here, spokesman Wood said the United States has no intention of following suit while elements of the so-called Global Political Agreement between Mr. Mugabe and his former opponents remain unfulfilled.

"We will continue to provide assistance to the Zimbabwean people," Wood said. "But in terms of our sanctions that are targeted against regime members, Mugabe regime members, we're not going to in any way ease those sanctions until we see changes from that government. And we're very concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe. So we are not going to be able to make fundamental changes to our policies with regard to development assistance until we see real movement on the ground," he said.

The United States imposed targeted travel and financial sanctions against Mr. Mugabe, family members and key associates in response to past vote-rigging and human rights violations. It is one of the largest contributors of humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe but U.S. aid is delivered only by U.N. agencies and non-governmental groups.