10-25-2016  9:15 pm      •     
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MUTARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ A prominent member of the prime minister's party, arrested last month on weapons charges, was released on bail Thursday.
"I am happy to be out. I will do anything to move this country forward,'' Roy Bennett told reporters after being released from prison in the eastern city of Mutare.
Bennett was unshaven and thinner. But he sounded determined as he spoke about harsh jail conditions in which prisoners survive on one meal a day and are given salty water.
He said five people died during his incarceration and it took authorities 24 to 48 hours to collect the bodies.
"Behind those walls I walked out of, a tragedy is taking place,'' he said.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had appointed Bennett deputy agriculture minister in Zimbabwe's month-old unity government. Bennett was arrested Feb. 13, the day the unity Cabinet was sworn in.
Several efforts to secure bail failed, and his party accused prison and police officials of ignoring appeals for it to be granted.
The Supreme Court, in an appeal hearing in Harare on Wednesday, ruled that state prosecutors had no grounds to oppose a previous High Court ruling ordering Bennett's release.
He was granted bail of $5,000 in cash, had to surrender deeds to property worth at least $20,000 and was ordered to report to police three times a week.
Bennett was greeted Thursday by MDC supporters who cheered and waved as he walked free.
After a reunion with his family, Bennett was scheduled to visit Tsvangirai at the prime minister's rural home in southern Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai buried his wife, Susan, in a family cemetery Wednesday. She was killed in a car crash Friday that also left him injured.
Bennett is a popular former lawmaker whose coffee farm was seized under President Robert Mugabe's land-reform program. In his new post as deputy agriculture minister, Bennett will likely have to address reports that Mugabe supporters have stepped up farm invasions in recent weeks.
Bennett denies the charges against him, which are linked to long-discredited allegations that Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change plotted Mugabe's violent overthrow.
He is still scheduled to go on trial March 18 in Mutare. If found guilty, he could face prison.
Mutare magistrate Lovemore Chipadze, who signed previous release papers for Bennett after the High Court ordered him freed, was scheduled to appear in court March 17 on charges of abusing his office.
Chipadze was arrested a week ago, accused of attempting to free Bennett before the state's appeal of his possible release was heard by the Supreme Court. Chipadze was freed on bail on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is to get a new independent daily newspaper, in a boost for the unity government.
Trevor Ncube, chairman of a company that publishes two independent newspapers, said the new paper would create over 300 jobs and inject $4 million into Zimbabwe's economy.
The South-African based Ncube said in a statement Thursday that despite "teething problems,'' his company was "encouraged by opportunities'' the coalition government offers.
He said the new government realized the importance of investment and a vibrant media in rebuilding the country. He said he expected a publishing license to be granted "as soon as possible.''
The paper, to be called NewsDay, will be published every day except Sunday.

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