Police to arrest opposition leader, state newspaper reports

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The Independent Online

Police plan to arrest Zimbabwe's main opposition leader on treason charges when he returns from a trip abroad Monday, a state-controlled newspaper reported Sunday.

Police plan to arrest Zimbabwe's main opposition leader on treason charges when he returns from a trip abroad Monday, a state-controlled newspaper reported Sunday.

Police awaiting the return of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai have been stationed at the main Harare airport since Friday, the Sunday Mail reported.

The newspaper said MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube could also face arrest for suggesting Tsvangirai's detention could trigger a civil uprising.

The Sunday Mail, seen as a mouthpiece of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, quoted unidentified police and government officials saying Tsvangirai will face treason charges for "inciting public violence" and bringing Mugabe's name to disrepute for comments he made at a Sept. 30 rally.

Treason carries a possible death sentence.

At the rally in Harare celebrating the MDC's first anniversary, Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of destroying the economy.

"What we want to tell Mugabe today is to please go peacefully - if you don't want to go, we will remove you violently," he said.

Tsvangirai traveled to Europe and South Africa on party business the next day and was scheduled to return Monday.

In South Africa, Tsvangirai has described his remarks as undiplomatic but not illegal.

He said his speech was "prophetic" of likely civil unrest if Mugabe continued to destroy the country.

Ncube, the third ranking party official, said Sunday the threat of arrest would not deter Tsvangirai from returning home.

"It is clear the intention is to intimidate the leadership of the MDC into silence. We don't fear Mugabe's prisons for asserting our democratic rights," he said.

Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since Mugabe led the nation to independence from Britain in 1980. The crisis has been worsened by political violence that left 31 people dead and thousands homeless - most of them MDC supporters - in the run up to June's parliamentary elections.

The MDC won 57 of 120 elected seats in those elections, posing the biggest threat to Mugabe's hold on power since independence. Mugabe's party controlled all but three seats in the previous parliament.

Ncube said in a statement Saturday the threatened arrest of Tsvangirai was "legally unjustified, politically unwise and dangerous as it is likely to lead to unnecessary conflict in the country."

Before and after the polls, Mugabe himself and several senior ruling party officials and party militants explicitly threatened violence against opponents, Ncube said.

Those threats and continued state-sponsored violence went mostly uncondemned and unpunished and made possible charges against Tsvangirai "ironic and illogical," Ncube said.

The opposition won overwhelming electoral support in the Zimbabwean cities of Bulawayo and Harare, where people are reeling under the effects of record inflation of nearly 70 per cent and unemployment of 50 percent. They also suffer acute shortages of imports, including basic medicines and gasoline.

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