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'Opposition Leader Wanted President Mugabe Assassinated,' says Second Witness - 2003-03-14

A second witness has testified that Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai tried to have President Robert Mugabe assassinated. The witness worked for a Canadian consulting firm that the opposition party allegedly tried to hire to carry out the killing. Canadian researcher Tara Thomas told the Harare High Court she was at two meetings at which President Mugabe's assassination was discussed. Ms. Thomas said she worked for the Canadian company owned by the state's star witness, Ari Ben Menashe, who finished his lengthy testimony on Monday.

She said the company undertook consultancies and that Zimbabwe's fledgling opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, was its first customer.

The company also worked for the Zimbabwe government, and in a telephone interview Friday, Mr. Ben Menashe confirmed that his contract with the Zimbabwe government has just been renewed for a further year. Still, he denied he was being paid for his testimony against the opposition leader.

Mr. Tsvangirai and two opposition colleagues, Renson Gasela and Welshman Ncube, have denied the treason charges they are facing for the alleged plot against President Mugabe. If they are found guilty, they could face the death sentence.

They say they consulted Mr. Ben Menashe's company to lobby for their party in the United States, and to help the party raise money.

The state's main evidence is a sometimes inaudible video tape of a meeting between Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Ben Menashe in Canada in 2001, three months before a crucial presidential election which Mr. Tsvangirai lost to Mr. Mugabe amid widespread charges of fraud.

Ms. Thomas says she attended the meeting, and that Mr. Tsvangirai had wanted Mr. Mugabe assassinated so that it looked like an accident.