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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 11 February 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Party officials say Zimbabwean police no longer plan treason charges against a longtime opposition politician appointed to the unity government.
Roy Bennett's Movement for Democratic Change says police had accused the deputy agriculture minister nominee of treason. The party says police said Sunday that he faces a weapons charge instead. Police have been unreachable since Bennett's arrest.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC's leader and Zimbabwe's new prime minister, called Bennett's arrest an attempt by factions in President Robert Mugabe's party to derail power sharing.
The coalition was formed after months of impasse so that rival politicians can address the nation's economic meltdown. It keeps Mugabe as president after three decades in power.
Bennett was detained by police Friday while Tsvangirai and Mugabe were presiding over the inauguration of senior Cabinet ministers. Bennett, a well-known white lawmaker fluent in the local Shona language, had his coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe seized years ago by ruling party supporters.
A pro-Mugabe newspaper resurrected a long-discredited claim Saturday, reporting that Bennett was arrested because of an alleged plot from 2006 to overthrow Mugabe. Tsvangirai's party said police told them Bennett would be charged with treason, which carries the death penalty.
Late Saturday, the party said lawyers had been able to see Bennett, and that he had released a statement through them: "Whatever these challenges, if we remain unwaveringly dedicated, we will achieve peace, freedom and democracy in our life time -- believe me.''
A deep gulf of mistrust resides between Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party, bitter rivals pressured to work together by neighboring countries after disputed elections led to a political impasse.
Bennett's arrest was a test for Tsvangirai, who had hesitated to join the government for fear he would stuck with little power to affect change amid desperate calls for help by ordinary Zimbabweans.
Tsvangirai won the most votes in presidential elections last March, then dropped out of a June runoff because of state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Mugabe claimed victory even though international observers denounced the runoff as a sham.
Zimbabwe's political leaders had been at an impasse ever since and the country's economic collapse spiraled into a humanitarian disaster, prompting the two sides to join together.
Bennett's arrest "undermines the spirit of our (unity) agreement,'' Tsvangirai said Saturday. "It is very important to maintain the momentum of our agreement.''
Tsvangirai said he had received assurances from the South African and Zimbabwean governments that Bennett was safe in custody -- reports of torture in detention are common in Zimbabwe.


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