Zim's MDC undecided on response to arrest

Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) may be reluctant to quit the new unity government formed to lead the country out of economic crisis, despite the arrest of one of its senior officials, a top party official said on Monday.

“You have to sympathise 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,” Finance Minister Tendai Biti of the MDC told South Africa’s Talk Radio 702.

He had been asked whether the MDC would pull out of the government if MDC treasurer general Roy Bennett and other political prisoners were not released.

“We will have to call an [emergency] meeting of our national council and decide,” Biti said.

Bennett’s lawyers said police had applied for leave to extend his detention for another 48 hours, delaying his expected court appearance in the eastern city of Mutare on charges of planning terrorism and insurgency, just days after a Cabinet was sworn in.

“We are disappointed with the turn of events because our client will continue languishing in police holding cells until the expiry of 48 hours,” Chris Ndlovu told journalists outside a magistrate’s court.

The row over Bennett’s arrest threatens the credibility of the new administration with President Robert Mugabe, whose formation after long negotiations was aimed at leading Zimbabwe out of a political and economic crisis.

Foreign investors and Western donors want concrete signs of stability in Zimbabwe. They have made it clear that funds will not flow until a democratic government is created and economic reforms are made.

Bennett, who was meant to be deputy agriculture minister in the new administration, was arrested before new ministers were sworn in on Friday.

Police deployed at court
Earlier on Monday, dozens of heavily armed police were deployed outside the Mutare courthouse. About 100 MDC supporters held “Free Roy!” placards.

Bennett had been living in exile in South Africa after fleeing the country about two years ago because police wanted to question him in connection with the discovery of an arms cache in eastern Zimbabwe.

He is accused of being involved in funding for arms and explosives to be used to sabotage essential services. Bennett has denied the charges and believes they are politically motivated, he said.

The MDC said treason charges against him had been dropped.

Police have not been available to comment on the case.

As finance minister, Biti faces the enormous task of figuring out a way to rescue Zimbabwe’s ruined economy.

“It’s a million-dollar question,” he said.

“You are dealing with a battered economy. And the challenge is to panel beat it into some semblance of an economy in a very short period of time. The honeymoon is going to be very short.”

Zimbabweans face unemployment of more than 90% and prices that double every day, while a cholera epidemic has killed more than 3 500 people.—Reuters



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