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Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Denies Hiring Assassin to Kill Mugabe

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, on trial for treason, says he had hired the Canadian businessman who later became the prosecution's key witness to represent his party in the United States.

Mr. Tsvangirai told the High Court that he hired Ari Ben Menashe to represent his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in North America.

Mr. Ben Menashe was the state's main witness when the treason trial began last February, claiming that Mr. Tsvangirai hired him to kill Mr. Mugabe and stage a coup.

The opposition leader said he believed every word Mr. Ben Menashe told him about his high flying contacts in Washington and other parts of the world. Based on that, he agreed to hire the Canadian as a lobbyist and a fund raiser.

But the businessman secretly filmed Mr. Tsvangirai at their last meeting in Canada, and claims that the recording proves that he had been hired by the opposition party to assassinate President Mugabe.

Mr. Tsvangirai himself has denied the allegations, and told the court that Zimbabwe would have been plunged into chaos and even civil war had Mr. Mugabe been assassinated.

According to independent polls just before the 2002 presidential elections, Mr. Tsvangirai had a comfortable lead over the incumbent President Mugabe. But he lost the election, and is still challenging the result in the courts.

Two opposition legislators accused of treason with Mr. Tsvangirai were acquitted in December.