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Tsvangirai Denies Presidential Murder Plot in Zimbabwe Trial - 2004-01-19

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has taken the witness stand for the first time at his treason trial, which resumed Monday after a four month break.

During testimony, Mr. Tsvangirai denied state charges of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and arrange a military takeover ahead of the 2002 presidential elections.

Mr. Tsvangirai also told the court that he regarded President Mugabe as a hero for his role in liberating Zimbabwe from British colonial rule.

Morgan Tsvangirai is the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Monday's proceedings got underway after the judge granted a prosecution motion to slightly alter the charges against Mr. Tsvangirai. The new charges now include allegations he had begun planning transitional arrangements and discussed military support after Mr. Mugabe's intended murder.

The state's case centers on a grainy, partially audible videotape of a December 2001 meeting between Mr. Tsvangirai and an Israeli political consultant, Ari Ben Menashe. The states says that Mr. Tsvangirai sought the consutlant's help in carrying out the alleged plot.

The trial against the opposition leader began early last year. Since then, treason charges against two of his colleagues have been dropped due to lack of evidence.

If convicted, Mr. Tsvangirai faces the death penalty.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.