- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe's opposition leader was formally charged with treason yesterday in a purported plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, accusations the opposition says were concocted by the government.

The charges against Morgan Tsvangirai came as regional leaders tried to press Mr. Mugabe to form a coalition government with the opposition after widely condemned presidential elections in which he was declared the winner over Mr. Tsvangirai.

Mr. Tsvangirai has denied the treason charges, calling them a government ploy to discredit him.

Police had charged Mr. Tsvangirai with the same crime before the March 9-11 elections. Yesterday, he was formally charged in court and released on $27,000 bail. Treason carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

He was ordered to surrender his passport and the deeds to property worth $54,000 and told to report to police every week.

Meanwhile, a nationwide strike called by the opposition and labor unions to protest violence after the elections got off to a slow start yesterday, with some banks and businesses closed. Union officials expected the three-day strike to take greater hold today.

Most government offices, post offices and schools remained open.

State radio described the strike organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions as a failure and said police were deployed across the country "to make sure some unruly elements do not prevent people going to work."

Mr. Tsvangirai's court appearance came a day after the Commonwealth group of Britain and its former colonies suspended Zimbabwe from the organization's meetings for one year, citing the "high level of politically motivated" violence in the vote that re-elected Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Mugabe's information minister, Jonathan Moyo, dismissed the suspension. "In the next 12 months we will not spend sleepless nights about the Commonwealth," he said on state radio.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had urged Mr. Mugabe and the opposition to form a government of national unity to help lead Zimbabwe out of its economic crisis. But Mr. Tsvangirai rejected the proposal, saying it would legitimize Mr. Mugabe's victory in a stolen election. He has demanded a new vote.

Mr. Tsvangirai's attorney, Eric Matinenga, said the opposition leader's arrest may have come in response to the Commonwealth decision.

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