- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe | Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was injured in a car crash on the outskirts of the capital Friday and his wife was killed, officials said.

Mr. Tsvangirai had been traveling to a weekend rally in the prime minister’s home district of Buhera, south of Harare, when his car sideswiped a truck, his spokesman James Maridadi said.

“The driver of the truck appeared to be sleeping,” a government minister from Mr. Tsvangirai’s party told Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Maridadi initially said the injuries to the Tsvangirais and an aide, who also was in the car, were not life-threatening. Later, two officials from the Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) said on the condition of anonymity that 50-year-old Susan Tsvangirai was dead and that an official statement would come later from the family.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Mr. Tsvangirai’s No. 2 in the party, told reporters after visiting the Harare hospital that the prime minister was stable. Mr. Biti refused to answer questions about Mrs. Tsvangirai.

The Tsvangirais, who married in 1978 and had six children, often went together to political events, but she did not have a prominent public role.

President Robert Mugabe arrived at the hospital late in the evening, spent about an hour inside and left. He and other senior aides who also visited did not speak to reporters or Tsvangirai supporters gathered outside.

The road where the accident occurred is like many in Zimbabwe - in poor condition because of a lack of maintenance - and is notorious for accidents. Long stretches have been reduced to one lane.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who turns 57 next week, was sworn in Feb. 11 as Zimbabwe’s prime minister in a power-sharing deal meant to end almost a year of deadly stalemate with Mr. Mugabe. The unity government has been rocky after years of rivalry between Mr. Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, and Mr. Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mr. Tsvangirai formed the MDC a decade ago. As the party emerged as a serious political challenger, he repeatedly faced the wrath of Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party. Mr. Tsvangirai has been beaten and was once nearly thrown from a 10th-floor window by suspected government thugs.

Rumors in Harare, some spread by cell-phone text messages, were quick to raise questions about whether the crash was another assassination attempt

Scores of Tsvangirai supporters were in prison even as he joined the government. Several have since been released, but not prominent party member Roy Bennett.

Mr. Bennett, Mr. Tsvangirai’s nominee for deputy agriculture minister, has been jailed since Feb. 13. He faces weapons charges linked to long-discredited claims that Mr. Tsvangirai’s party was plotting to use force to overthrow Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Bennett’s attorneys had hoped that he would be freed Wednesday, after the High Court ruled the state had no right to oppose bail.

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