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Treason Trial of Zimbabwe Opposition Member Continues - 2003-02-18

The judge in the treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, Tuesday warned the state's most important witness about his use of abusive language in court.

The judge's warning came after the state's key witness, Ari Ben-Menashe, said the lawyer for the defense was well-known in the United States as a racist and anti-feminist.

The judge, Justice Paddington Garwe, immediately interrupted Mr. Ben-Menashe, a political consultant. "There is a limit beyond which we will not go. I believe I have made myself very clear," Judge Garwe said.

George Bizos, the defense lawyer, is well-known in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He has represented most leading anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela and his former wife Winnie, as well as the father of South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki.

The day's proceedings were taken up with questions from Mr. Bizos to Mr. Ben-Menashe about the transcript of an audio tape of a November 2001 meeting between the consultant, Morgan Tsvangirai, and two other opposition officials in London.

The three opposition leaders are accused of attempting to assassinate Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president.

According to Mr. Ben-Menashe, Mr. Tsvangirai and his two co-defendants discussed the assassination of President Mugabe at the London meeting. But under questioning it became apparent that the 15-page transcript contained no reference to the killing of the president.

A Ben-Menashe employee, Tara Thomas, who was at the London meeting did the transcription. But Mr. Ben-Menashe claims the transcript is not representative of the discussions.

The defense is arguing that Mr. Ben-Menashe was paid by the Zimbabwe government to entrap Mr. Tsvangirai and his two colleagues, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela.

The prosecution maintains that the three tried to hire Mr. Ben-Menashe to assist in the assassination of President Robert Mugabe. In addition to providing an audiotape, Mr. Ben Menashe secretly videotaped a meeting he had with Mr. Tsvangirai, which he alleges proves the assassination plot.

All three defendants deny they conspired to assassinate Mr. Mugabe, and say Mr. Ben-Menashe is involved in an attempt to frame them.

If found guilty of treason, they face the death penalty.