Army put on alert before Tsvangirai verdict

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwean army has been mobilised before the verdict today in the controversial trial of the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is facing a possible death sentence over an alleged plot to kill President Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean army has been mobilised before the verdict today in the controversial trial of the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is facing a possible death sentence over an alleged plot to kill President Robert Mugabe.

The home affairs ministry said security forces were ready to quell any unrest as the Harare government braced itself for a potentially violent backlash from supporters of Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The move came as the MDC declared it would stand by its leader even if he was condemned to a lengthy prison term over the treason charges. He could face the death penalty. The presiding judge, Paddington Garwe, is a relative of Mr Mugabe and is among the President's inner circle of allies who were allocated farms seized from whites.

Kembo Mohadi, the Home Affairs Minister, said: "Those with an inclination towards disorder are strongly warned against such behaviour and law-abiding citizens are assured of peace and security." The announcement unnerved many Zimbabweans, who interpreted it as a bad omen for the accused.

Jealous Garainesu, an MDC supporter, said: "I am apprehensive and nervous. Why would they fear unrest unless they know the verdict? They probably know the judgment already. They know that unrest can only occur if there is a guilty verdict and only happy celebrations if there is an acquittal."

Newly appointed judges on the Zimbabwean bench are known to share their judgments on controversial cases with the Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, before these are announced in court.

Michael Majuru, the former Administrative Court Judge President, fled the country last year after alleging harassment by Mr Chinamasa, who wanted to know how the judge had ruled in the banned Daily News case before he had announced his verdict in court.

Mr Mohadi said he had intelligence that there were groups intent on causing trouble in the vicinity of the high court and in other parts of the country, regardless of the verdict. The MDC has insisted that the treason charges against its leader are part of a relentless government campaign of harassment.

Mr Tsvangirai himself said he wanted the case to come to an end. "Whatever the outcome I don't mind, be it a conviction or an acquittal. The sooner it is ended, the better," he declared in an interview.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the MDC's foreign affairs spokesman, told diplomats in Harare that Mr Tsvangirai would remain the opposition party's leader even while in jail. "The whole trial was nothing but a political show specifically designed to cripple the opposition by targeting the leadership, with the hope of eventually paralysing and ultimately destroying the MDC. The regime believes that a conviction of the MDC leader would paralyse the organisational structure of the MDC, dismantle leadership cohesion and derail the focus of the party from concentrating on electoral reform and the upcoming elections. It is therefore a judgment which will be delivered in the context of political calculation to weaken the MDC," she added.

She said that the party would remain focused and united whatever the outcome of the case. "All this is a terrible miscalculation on the part of the regime. The leadership is united on all our common objectives."

Heavily armed police started close surveillance of the MDC's offices in Harare on Wednesday as tensions heightened before today's verdict. Reports said that notorious young men from Mr Mugabe's indoctrination camps had been drafted in to help police crush any protests if a guilty verdict were handed down.

Mr Mohadi said police would not allow large numbers of people to gather outside the court, because "we are not assured of what will actually happen".

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