/ 17 October 2009

Roy Bennett free on bail

The politician whose trial shook Zimbabwe’s unity government is free on bail.

Hours after a judge ordered bail for Roy Bennett on Friday, reporters watched him walk out of the jail in Mutare, 270km east of the capital.

Bennett says after a weekend in Harare, he will return to Mutare for his trial’s start on Monday.

On Friday, citing Bennett’s ”persecution”, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai temporarily abandoned shared rule with President Robert Mugabe.

Bennett charges involve long-discredited allegations of an anti-Mugabe coup plot.

”It is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner. In this regard, while being in government we shall forthwith disengage from Zanu-PF and in particular from Cabinet and the council of ministers until such time as confidence and respect are restored among us,” Tsvangirai told reporters on Friday.

Tensions high
Following Bennett’s jailing on Wednesday, tensions quickly escalated. Mugabe refused to meet Tsvangirai, who had sought an emergency meeting to resolve the matter, and the prime minister reacted by refusing to hold a scheduled Cabinet meeting.

On Friday Tsvangirai told reporters the detention of Bennett showed that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party regarded the MDC as a junior partner and that the power-sharing administration would collapse if the president continued his unilateral rule.

Since the new government was formed, the MDC has complained about continued harassment and arrest of its members, signalling lack of respect for the fragile accord.

Tsvangirai has not had it easy. He claims to have been the target of four assassination attempts, including one in 1997 when he said assailants tried to throw him out of his office window.

An eloquent and persuasive orator, he kept up the pressure as Zimbabwe’s economic hardship deepened and in 1999 he spearheadedthe creation of the MDC, born largely from the labour movement.

The MDC won parliamentary polls last year and Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election, only to pull out of the run-off claiming violence and intimidation from Zanu-PF.

The party says at least 200 supporters were killed last year, and Tsvangirai said he wanted to prevent more bloodshed by bowing out of the race.

Here is a timeline of events since the two main players signed a power-sharing deal in September 2008.

September 15 2008: Mugabe and Tsvangirai sign a power-sharing agreement to try to end the crisis but implementation stalls over who gets top ministerial posts.
January 27 2009: Regional leaders say they reached breakthrough in negotiations on implementing the deal, but the opposition says it is disappointed with results of the meeting.
January 30: Opposition agrees at meeting in Harare to join the unity government.
February 5: Parliament passes a constitutional Bill paving the way for a coalition government.
February 11: Tsvangirai is sworn in as prime minister.
March 4: Tsvangirai calls for an end to international sanctions in his maiden speech to Parliament, as part of his bid to start rebuilding the shattered economy.
March 6: Tsvangirai is injured in a car accident that killed his wife. He is flown to Botswana for treatment.
May 1: Tsvangirai announces at a May Day rally that the unity government is broke and cannot meet union demands for higher wages.
June 24: Tsvangirai winds up a three-week tour to the United States and Europe which yielded scant funds and put him under pressure to persuade Mugabe to agree to reform to secure foreign aid.
June 25: Mugabe attacks Western countries for refusing to lift sanctions because he was still in power, but says his country will get aid from those who will not impose conditions.
July 14: Zimbabwe resumes a convention to draw up a new Constitution after it was halted the day before, following clashes between rival political parties that exposed tensions within the new unity government.
September 4: The International Monetary Fund says it has transferred about $400-million in IMF special drawing rights to Zimbabwe as part of G20 agreement to help member states.
September 12: Mugabe welcomes the first top-level European Union delegation to visit Zimbabwe in seven years with ”open arms” and say talks on implementing a power-sharing deal went well.
October 1: Zimbabwe’s economy is projected to grow by 3,7% this year, according to the IMF, the first expansion since 1997.
October 14: A court detains Roy Bennett, a senior MDC official, and rules that he should stand trial on terrorism charges.
October 15: Britain says it is providing $100-million in aid to Zimbabwe in 2009, its largest ever donation to the country, to help the unity government.
October 16: Tsvangirai announces the MDC will disengage from ”dishonest and unreliable” Zanu-PF. – Sapa-AP, Reuters