- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was cleared yesterday of treason charges that carried a possible death sentence.

Mr. Tsvangirai, 53, was arrested in June 2003 and spent two weeks in jail after protests called by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party that the government said were aimed at overthrowing President Robert Mugabe.

Prosecutor Florence Ziyambi told the Harare magistrate’s court that the state was “withdrawing the charges before plea,” but gave no explanation.

Mr. Tsvangirai showed no emotion when the magistrate read the prosecution’s decision.

But speaking to reporters at his home later in the day, a jubilant Mr. Tsvangirai said the case was a feeble attempt by the Mugabe government to deflect attention from the slew of political and economic crises bedeviling the southern African nation.

“This one had no basis at all,” he said. “Let me say, this was a worthless attempt to divert attention from the issues confronting our nation.”

The former trade union leader who formed the MDC in late 1999 was also acquitted of treason in October, after an almost six-month trial on separate charges of plotting to kill Mr. Mugabe, in power since the country achieved independence in 1980.

The Zimbabwean government sought leave to appeal in December, but withdrew that appeal in February, shortly before parliamentary elections in March.

At his initial hearing two years ago, Mr. Tsvangirai was brought before the High Court in leg irons and wore khaki prison garb for his bail hearing.

He has been appearing in court regularly for remand, but his attorneys had complained at the last hearing that the state was taking too long to go to trial.

Over the past month, Mr. Tsvangirai has visited communities affected by a much-criticized demolitions campaign that has left 700,000 people homeless and condemned it as an act of retribution against his supporters.

Mr. Tsvangirai is also preparing for a challenge in the Supreme Court against Mr. Mugabe’s victory in 2002 elections, although no date has been set for the case.

His party is also challenging in court the outcome of the March parliamentary vote that gave the MDC 41 seats, compared with 78 for Mr. Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

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