- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe Baton-wielding police beat back a crowd of lawmakers, diplomats and journalists trying to see yesterday's treason trial of opposition leaders accused of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe.
A judge later ruled that spectators should be admitted, but police said they did not hear that until hours afterward and continued to bar people from the proceedings. A few journalists were arrested.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two senior party colleagues could face the death penalty if convicted.
Respected South African anti-apartheid attorney George Bizos, who represented Nelson Mandela nearly 40 years ago, is defending them. Mr. Bizos had asked for the trial, which began yesterday, to be adjourned until it was opened to the public.
Mr. Tsvangirai denies the accusations as a "frame up." After he was formally charged Feb. 25 just weeks before last year's presidential election, which he lost the U.S. government said there was no convincing evidence against him and the others, and that the charges were further efforts to repress the opposition.
U.S. Ambassador Joseph Sullivan, allowed in by security officials after being forced to wait in the crowd, said Washington was closely following the case.
"It has important implications for both the rule of law and democratic pluralism in Zimbabwe," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the government was concerned by reports that police detained and harassed people seeking to observe the trial.
"We're pleased that the judge subsequently ordered that all interested parties be granted access to the trial," Mr. Boucher said.
Other Western diplomats who were jostled and turned away said they planned to protest to the Foreign Ministry.
The case centers on a secretly recorded videotape of a meeting between Mr. Tsvangirai, 50, and consultant Ari Ben Menashe, in which the opposition leader purportedly sought help to "eliminate" Mr. Mugabe, 78.
The other suspects party secretary-general Welshman Ncube of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, and opposition leader Renson Gasela are accused of helping arrange the Dec. 4, 2001, meeting.
Mr. Ben Menashe claims to be a former Israeli intelligence officer and arms dealer and now heads a Canadian consulting firm.
Mr. Tsvangirai said the firm had offered to help the opposition clean up its image in the West. But Mr. Ben Menashe, who was secretly working for the government and is the main state witness, said Mr. Tsvangirai wanted him to kill Mr. Mugabe.
The trial comes a week ahead of the first of six World Cup cricket matches scheduled for Zimbabwe. The event has been criticized as an inappropriate spectacle in a nation wracked by political unrest, and acute fuel and food shortages.

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