Misanet.com / IPS, 20 March - Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai was today formally charged with treason over allegations of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai's lawyer, Eric Matinenga, described the decision to charge his client as a "knee-jerk reaction" to Tuesday's suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for 12 months.
The Commonwealth, an organisation that comprises former British colonies, criticised the way Zimbabwe's 9-10 March presidential elections, "won" by Mugabe, was conducted. Reacting to his country's suspension from the organisation, information minister, Jonathan Moyo said his government "would not lose sleep over the 12 months."
- As to what we will do in the next 12 months, we will not spend sleepless nights about the Commonwealth, Moyo told 'The Herald', Zimbabwe's leading state-run newspaper. "We will spend 24 hours working for Zimbabweans." The Commonwealth Observer Mission to Zimbabwe said the 9-10 March poll was flawed and does not reflect the will of the people.
In comments carried in 'The Herald' on Wednesday, Moyo described the Commonwealth report as "a disgraceful document which is heavily opinionated, one-sided and unashamedly pro-Britain and totally out of step not only with how elections were run but also with what other more important African observers had to say."
Tsvangirai's lawyer, Matinenga questioned the timing of police 'harassment' of his client. "This particular appearance is just continued harassment of Mr Tvangirai and senior members of his party," he said.
Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was released on a 27,000 US dollar bail, ordered to surrender his travel document and report to the police between 6am and 6pm every Monday. He was charged together with his Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Renson Gasela.
MDC secretary-general, Welshman Ncube has already been charged with treason and is out on bail. The three will appear in court on 30 April. The treason charge against Tsvangirai carries a death penalty.
The government said Ncube, Gasela and Tsvangirai approached a Canadian-based consultancy firm, 'Dickens and Madison' and tried to engage it to assassinate President Mugabe. The MDC officials reportedly offered the firm 500,000 US dollars.
Tsvangirai has denied plotting to kill President Mugabe, who beat him in a presidential election more than a week ago amidst allegations of violence and intimidation.
Tsvangirai was picked up as labour unions launched a three-day strike Wednesday to protest alleged harassment of workers by the government.
The first day of the strike saw a lukewarm response by workers. The strike, which has been declared illegal by the police, is the first public test of opposition support since the election.
In the capital Harare, most shops and businesses opened, despite calls to shut down. In some shops, there was a reduction in the number of workers.
Wellington Chibebe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said that in towns outside Harare, they had achieved a 55 percent stay-away rate, while in Harare, at one point, he said, they managed to get 60 percent in the morning.
- In the morning it was around 60 percent in Harare, but as time went on, many shops opened, as workers were called from home, he said. "There is still the element of fear among workers as a result of the intimidation they have been subjected to," Chibebe said.
He said the state-controlled radio and TV stations - the only ones allowed to operate in the country - sent confusing messages about the strike. "We will not call off the strike," said Chibebe.
Police have warned the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions that officers were being mobilised, across the country, to deal with the strike. There was heavy police presence in Harare on Wednesday, deployed to keep an eye on the strikers.