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Opposition 'arrests' in Zimbabwe

MDC party members
MDC party members were removed in police trucks  

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Thirty-one members of Zimbabwe's opposition party have been arrested at their offices in the capital Harare, party officials have said.

The arrests come after two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials were charged this week with high treason in connection with an alleged assassination plot against President Robert Mugabe.

The party members were taken away on Thursday by police in four trucks, their party said. Harare police said they were unaware of the activity and would check the report.

The MDC has been under intense scrutiny ahead of upcoming presidential elections on March 9 and 10.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 22 years -- 16 as its president -- is trying to maintain power in the face of one of his stiffest challengers, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai was charged with high treason on Monday then released by police. He has denied the charges.

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The opposition leader was also briefly detained on Wednesday, charged with holding an illegal meeting, while staging a meeting for his party in Harare.

However, South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday that Tsvangirai had not been charged with treason.

Zuma, who met Mugabe, Vice-President Joseph Msika and cabinet ministers in Harare on Wednesday, said in a statement that he had been assured that election campaigning was proceeding "normally."

Some observers say the campaign is being rigged in Mugabe's favour and that his followers are being allowed to intimidate and assault opposition supporters.

Zuma added: "President Mugabe and his delegation acknowledged that there were a few areas where incidents of intimidation occurred in the country, but that most parts of the country were peaceful and that electioneering was continuing normally."

South Africa has said its observers will measure the Zimbabwe election both against that country's own constitution and against a set of principles agreed with Mugabe at a meeting of the 14-member Southern African Development Community.

The European Union and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his close associates, but the Commonwealth, due to meet in Brisbane, Australia, from Saturday, is divided over whether to follow suite.

"The Zimbabweans assured the South Africans that leader of the opposition Morgan Tsvangirai had not been charged with treason as reported in the media and said police had only questioned him," Zuma said.

Tsvangirai said he had been charged with treason following the broadcast of a video purporting to show him discussing Mugabe's assassination.

"I have been charged with high treason," he said. "I denied that completely."

Chief police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed that Tsvangirai was called in to face a charge of treason.


• Zimbabwe election law thrown out
February 28, 2002
• Mugabe opponent on treason charge
February 26, 2002
• More 'Mugabe plot' charges filed
February 26, 2002
• Journalist defends Tsvangirai tape
February 26, 2002
• Mugabe birthday address ridicules EU's sanctions
February 21, 2002
• EU observers leave Zimbabwe
February 20, 2002

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