More Treason Charges for Zimbabwe Opposition Leader

July 7, 2008 - 8:13 PM

Johannesburg (CNSNews.com) - Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has appeared in a Harare court on fresh treason charges, after the state said mass protests he organized last week were an attempt to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Police on Monday also arrested one of his deputies, Welshman Ncube, for allegedly inciting the five days of protest actions and work stoppages.

Tsvangirai was arrested Friday, the last day of the series of protests called by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

He was charged with treason for organising and holding rallies urging his supporters to take to the streets to overthrow Mugabe.

Tsvangirai already faces a separate treason trial, after the government accused him of plotting to assassinate Mugabe two years ago.

Mugabe's government fought last week's demonstrations both in the courts and in the streets. Police, soldiers, intelligence agents and youth militias of his Zanu-PF party were all involved in efforts to crush the protests.

Through the week they MDC supports and bystanders were harassed and attacked.

Symbols of resistance to Mugabe's rule, including independent newspapers and minibus taxi drivers who refused to ferry people to work, were targeted.

Arrests, beatings and intimidation of the public by security forces members were reported.

Market places and shopping malls in the capital, Harare, stood empty, and many of the roads were also eerily quiet, as many people stayed off the streets to avoid problems.

"The army's presence on the streets shows the government is afraid of the people," said one Harare resident, who didn't want to be named.

"The use of force by this government shows how far Mugabe can go to defend its illegitimacy, and the action of the police clearly shows that they are not a professional but a partisan force."

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed that two people had been killed in the security crackdown against what he called "acts of sabotage, banditry and terrorism."

By the end of the week's events, up to 500 people - including senior MDC officials, lawmakers and opposition supporters - had been arrested.

Mugabe has publicly boasted of his willingness to use maximum force to impose his policies.

At one point security forces used tanks to intimidate university students protesting against the lack of food and jobs in the virtually bankrupt country.

Towards the end of the week of protest, a small number of factories and businesses reopened, but on the whole, protest organizers hailed the actions as successful.

Before the protests and the harsh government response, a glimmer of hope for a negotiated settlement to Zimbabwe's political and economic crises appeared to have emerged.

South African government officials confirmed that talks were underway between the Zanu-PF party and the MDC, facilitated by the leaders of South Africa and Nigeria.

It's unclear whether those talks will resume in the light of the events of the last few days.

Zimbabwe has in recent years lurched from one political and economic crisis to the next.

During a three-year "land redistribution" program Mugabe's supporters seized most of the country's commercial farms, evicting the white farmers in the process.

He also cracked down hard on the MDC, which has offered the first realistic challenge to Zanu-PF rule since Zimbabwe became independent in 1980.

Mugabe was re-elected last year in an election marked by violence and intimidation, and which the opposition and some foreign governments wrote off as a fraud.

The 79-year-old president has accused the United States and former colonial power Britain of being behind efforts to destabilize his government.

The U.S. and Britain have spearheaded international condemnation of his policies.

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