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Zimbabwe Court Views Video Testimony in Treason Trial - 2003-02-05

There was dramatic video and testimony Wednesday in the treason trial of Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

On the stand for the second day running was the state's star witness, a Canadian, Ari Ben Menashe, who says Mr. Tsvangirai approached his political consultancy firm in 2001 to "eliminate" Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The state prosecutor continued with the review of a videotape of a meeting where the alleged plot to kill the president was hatched. The meeting was held in Montreal, Canada.

Proceedings began with the judge saying he had taken note of the defense's concerns about the poor audio quality of the tape. He said the 4.5 hour video would be shown in full and the court would make its own observations. He said that the defense should take note of sections of the tape that need clarification.

Mr. Menashe repeatedly asked for sections of the tape to be replayed, as the prosecutor asked him to repeat the exact words that were said. Some of the sections he asked to be replayed were so clear that people in the public gallery could easily hear what was being said.

At one point the judge warned the people in the gallery to stop their outbursts after members of the audience expressed exasperation with Mr. Manashe's countless requests for the tape to be replayed and his apparently inaccurate repetition of its contents.

When the court adjourned for tea after more than an hour, only seven minutes of the tape had been reviewed. When court resumed, Mr. Manashe asked if the process could be speeded up as he planned to leave Harare on Thursday and could not stay beyond Friday. Defense counsel and the judge said his testimony would likely not be finished by then.

During the 25 minutes of tape played before the court's lunch break, the first reference to the physical elimination of the president was made by Mr. Menashe. Mr. Tsvangirai, who attended the meeting on his own, seemed to be taken by surprise, but later used the term himself.

The trial resumed with the playing of the tape after lunch. Mr. Menashe is expected to continue his testimony Thursday.