Arrest threatens Zimbabwe’s new unity government

Zimbabwe's opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, above, have formed a unity Cabinet with the ruling party.
Zimbabwe’s new unity Cabinet met for the first time Tuesday, bringing together leaders of President Robert Mugabe’s party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party.

The government met a day after the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, criticized last week’s arrest of a key party leader and what they called the abduction of other party members by Mugabe supporters. Roy Bennett — treasurer of the MDC and Zimbabwe’s agriculture deputy minister-designate — faces charges of planning terrorism and insurgency. He was initially charged with treason when arrested Friday. “The case of the MDC abductees still in prison and that of Hon. Bennett poses a real threat to the health and life of the inclusive government,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said in a statement Monday. Watch how arrest may threaten unity » Bennett is in custody in the eastern city of Mutare, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the capital, Harare. “He should have gone to court on Monday, but police said the responsible people had some urgent business in Harare,” said his lawyer, Trust Maanda.

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“Now they have just told me that they have obtained a warrant to extend his detention without trial. That is unlawful, so I am going to challenge Bennett’s detention.” Under Zimbabwean law, a suspect must be brought to court within 48 hours after arrest. On Monday, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti of the MDC told a South African talk radio station that his party would not pull out of the coalition government despite Bennet’s arrest. “You have to sympathize with people that have no other hope other than this experiment. That alone is a force that will make you take a lot of nonsense for their sake,” Biti said. The unity government was formed after nearly a year of political unrest and violence that stemmed from a disputed presidential run-off in June, which Mugabe won. Tsvangirai won the first round in March.

Leaders face a humanitarian and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Many civil servants — including teachers, doctors and nurses — have been on strike since September, demanding higher pay as Zimbabwe’s currency has plummeted in value. That has caused many schools to close and exacerbated a cholera crisis that has killed nearly 4,000 people and infected about 65,000 people since August.