Tendai Biti, number two in Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was charged Thursday with treason and three other offences in the Harare magistrate's court for which he faces the death penalty.  Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare the opposition is facing growing violence ahead of the run-off presidential election June 27.

Tendai Biti is secretary general of the MDC, and a partner in an established Harare law firm.  He has been an opposition member of parliament for the last eight years.

Biti is accused of writing and signing a document, which discusses transitional arrangements should the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, come to power.  Biti denies he wrote the document and says the signature on it is not his.  He also says the party letterhead on which the document is printed is not authentic.

He has asked for charges against him to be dismissed.

In a separate development, diplomats in Harare have reported that South African President Thabo Mbeki told Mr. Mugabe in long talks in second city Bulawayo on Wednesday that the presidential run-off due June 27 should be cancelled.

Mr. Mbeki was speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which he represents as mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis.  Diplomats say Mr. Mbeki proposed to Mr. Mugabe a government of national unity and that negotiations towards this end are ongoing.

The talks between the two leaders took place against a background of increasing political violence.   Independent human rights activists report the bodies of four MDC activists were found in Harare early Thursday.   About a dozen opposition legislators have been jailed and vast areas of the country are closed down by unofficial curfews, according to the MDC.

The United Nations blames Mr. Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF for most of the violence of the last two months, but the president and his backers accuse the MDC.