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More 'Mugabe plot' charges filed

Tsvangirai: Vows to win the election "even from the grave"  

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Two more Zimbabwe opposition officials have been charged with treason in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Police and government officials said the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube, and member of parliament Renson Gasela were charged and released on Tuesday.

The charges were slammed as "an act of desperation" by Zimbabwean activists.

Morgan Tsvangirai, main opposition candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, was charged with high treason on Monday (full story).

In Zimbabwe, high treason is punishable by death.

CNN's Jeff Koinange reports Zimbabwe's President Mugabe defended the arrest of his main opposition and blasted Western countries (February 26)

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Tsvangirai says Zimbabwe's government is plotting to undermine him. CNN's Tim Lister reports (February 26)

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Will Zimbabwe's election on March 9-10 be free and fair?

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In-depth: Zimbabwe Election 2002 
Does Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have a case to answer?

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The allegations stem from a videotape in which Tsvangirai is said to be seen talking with members of a lobbying firm, Dickens and Madson, about "eliminating" Mugabe.

Tsvangirai contends he was pushed in the meeting in Montreal to discuss certain subjects and use certain words so the tape could then be altered by his political foes.

Ncube and Gasela are said to have attended an earlier meeting with the Dickens and Madson in London.

The pair were questioned by police on Tuesday and then charged and released.

Tsvangirai vowed to fight on in the presidential election despite the high treason charge against him.

CNN's Jeff Koinange said Tsvangirai had insisted to him he would win the poll "hands down, even if in jail or in the grave."

"These are contrived charges," Tsvangirai said about his arrest concerning an alleged attempt to assassinate Mugabe.

He called it a "conspiracy to undermine my political image in the country" ahead of the election on March 9-10 (Mugabe election speech).

Zimbabwean activists also hit out at the treason moves.

"They are not real charges. I don't think in the real world you can charge people with treason and then let them go free. I don't think that has ever happened," said Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly, a civic group that helped defeat a government-backed constitutional referendum in 2000.

"They are an act of desperation. If they were convinced of winning the election, they would not do this," he said.

In another twist, the man behind the tape former Israeli intelligence officer, Ari Ben Monashe, surfaced at a luxury hotel in Johannesburg and denied that he himself had prompted talk of eliminating President Mugabe, to trap Tsvangirai.

Ari Ben Monashe
Lobbyist Ari Ben Monashe: "Tsvangirai approached us"  

"It wasn't a sting," said Monashe, who is now being paid by the Zimnbabwean government. "We did not draw him into this, we did not do anything to have him approach us, we did not approach him, he came to us.

Asked by ITN if this was to kill Robert Mugabe, Monashe smiled and shrugged and replied: "Obviously that was his purpose, yes."

Tsvangirai was questioned at a police station in Harare on Monday before being told the charges would be pressed. He was then released and told he would be summoned later.

"I am concerned this is part of an orchestrated campaign which the government would like to whip up emotions among their supporters and find me guilty before I even appeared before the court of law, and cause a lot of commotion in country."

Tsvangirai said he would not be "disqualified" because of this. He said it is "improbable" for the government to bring him before the court.

Tsvangirai talked to CNN's Koinange about the videotape of the Montreal meeting. He said that the lobbying group Dickens and Madison had been working for the MDC.

He said was being asked "in the event the president does die" what would happen.

Tsvangirai answered there was a system of rules for presidential succession and explained them. He said he did not realise that the lobbyists also worked for Mugabe's party. He said he and his party will take legal action against the firm.

Tsvangirai said he was being pushed by someone from the lobby group to say the word "eliminate," but he did not admit to using the word (Journalist defends tape).

Australia said on Tuesday it could impose sanctions on Zimbabwe should Tsvangirai not be allowed to contest the election.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the charge fell "against a backdrop of a well-documented campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition."

"It appears to be another tragic example of President Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian rule, his government's apparent determination to intimidate and repress the opposition as we approach the... presidential election," he said.

"We are aware of no convincing evidence that there is any basis for these allegations," he said.


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