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Zimbabwe Trial: State's Witness Admits Trying to Frame Tsvangirai - 2003-02-20

The state's main witness in the treason trial of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, acknowledged Thursday he had secretly filmed Mr. Tsvangirai in order to gather evidence against him. Canadian political consultant Ari Ben Menashe told the court he pretended to Mr. Tsvangirai that he would help assassinate President Robert Mugabe ahead of presidential elections last March.

Mr. Ben-Menashe told the court that he secretly filmed a meeting with Movement for Democratic Change leader, Mr. Tsvangirai, to provide firm evidence for the Zimbabwe government about an opposition plot to assassinate Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Tsvangirai and two senior colleagues in the opposition party, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela, are charged with trying to assassinate the Zimbabwean president. They say they are being framed by the state.

The meeting where the videotape was made took place in Montreal in December 2001, four months before Zimbabwe's presidential election. Mr. Ben-Menashe said he told the MDC leaders that the reason he wanted to meet with them was to discuss a political transition in Zimbabwe after Mr. Mugabe had been eliminated. But the political consultant acknowledged Thursday that his real aim was "to collect evidence to show the plot."

On Monday, Mr. Ben-Menashe denied planning to hand over the state's main evidence, a grainy videotape of the Montreal meeting, to the Zimbabwe government.

The lawyer for the defense, George Bizos, says he will prove that the Zimbabwe government, before the presidential election, provided money for Mr. Ben-Menashe to discredit Mr. Tsvangirai, who was the leading challenger against Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Ben-Menashe told the court the tape had nothing to do with promoting Mr. Mugabe's candidacy. He said voters had learned through seeing the tape that Mr. Tsvangirai was an appointee for white and western interests in Zimbabwe.

During an adjournment in the trial, Mr. Tsvangirai commented on the invitation France has extended to Mr. Mugabe to attend the summit it is hosting in Paris.

The opposition leader said that, "Whatever perception France has about what benefits will accrue in inviting Mugabe to the meeting, will be remembered in the future by Zimbabweans that at their time of need, France betrayed Zimbabweans."