- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — An ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who was expected to join Zimbabwe’s unity government was arrested Friday, the party said — an early indication the country’s new political partnership will be rocky.

The arrest of Roy Bennett, which officials from the Movement for Democratic Change party said was unexplained, was announced shortly before senior ministers in the coalition government were sworn in.

After months of delays, President Robert Mugabe swore in longtime rival Tsvangirai as prime minister Wednesday in an effort to give Zimbabwe a coalition government that could address the country’s serious economic and humanitarian problems.

The two were to jointly oversee a Cabinet of 31 — 15 people from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, 13 from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and three from a breakaway opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

Tsvangirai had released his list of Cabinet nominees earlier, naming Bennett as deputy agriculture minister.

Friday’s inauguration ceremony was delayed in a last-minute dispute that, like Bennett’s arrest, underlined the challenges of bringing former opposition members into a government that has beaten and detained them.

Joseph Mungwari, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said Mugabe arrived for Friday’s ceremony with surprise plans to swear-in seven ZANU-PF members as junior ministers. Only senior ministers were to be sworn in Friday.

The move delayed the ceremony for two hours. It went ahead only after the parties agreed to discuss the seven junior ministers later.

Mugabe presided over Friday’s inaugurations, at one point warmly shaking the hand of Tendai Biti, a Tsvangirai aide taking over the finance ministry who has been among Mugabe’s sharpest critics.

“It’s been a long journey, but we are smiling and cracking jokes as if nothing happened before,” Mugabe said in a speech.

He said the first Cabinet meeting would be Tuesday.

“We have the experience,” Mugabe said. “We are going to teach them to understand how we must work together.”

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, who attended the ceremony, had pushed through the unity government deal along with other regional heads of state, insisting it was the only way to break Zimbabwe’s political deadlock.

However, some Tsvangirai allies say he never should have agreed to serve as prime minister alongside Mugabe, who has led the country for nearly three decades and is accused of engineering its economic collapse and trampling on democracy.

Mugabe, meanwhile, was under pressure from the military and government officials who don’t want to give up power.

Among Mugabe loyalists who held onto Cabinet posts were Didymus Mutasa, the veteran former security minister, Patrick Chinamasa, the former justice minister, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, seen as a possible successor to Mugabe in his ZANU-PF party.

The arrested Bennett, a white Zimbabwean fluent in the local Shona language, is a well-known figure in Zimbabwe. His coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe was seized years ago by ruling party supporters.

He was one of three white lawmakers elected during 2000 parliamentary elections. In 2005, he served several months in prison for shoving then-Justice Minister Chinamasa during a parliamentary debate after Chinamasa insulted Bennett.

More recently, Bennett was among several opposition figures listed on an arrest warrant accusing the party of planning Mugabe’s violent overthrow — charges that had been widely dismissed as a ZANU-PF ploy to discredit its rivals.

It was not clear if that warrant resulted in Friday’s arrest.

“We have been given no reason” for Bennett’s arrest, said Ian Makone, a MDC spokesman.

The police spokesman did not respond to requests by The Associated Press for comment.

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