Zimbabwe regime drops treason charge against Biti

HARARE – A Zimbabwe court dropped a treason case against an opposition leader on Friday after state lawyers failed to provide a trial date, a sign that President Robert Mugabe's government wanted a coalition government to succeed.

But Magistrate Olivia Mariga said the state could still revive the case against Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti by issuing a summons.

Biti was charged with seeking to oust Mugabe unconstitutionally by saying MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won a March 2008 poll against Mugabe outright.

Zimbabwe’s electoral authority said Tsvangirai had won the poll but without enough votes to take the presidency. Tsvangirai boycotted a June runoff citing violence against his supporters.

On Friday, Biti’s lawyer Lewis Uriri said the magistrate turned down an application by prosecutors to keep the MDC secretary-general on remand, saying the state can pursue the case when they are ready.

"The magistrate refused to remand Mr. Biti, and accepted our argument that the state had broken its own undertakings to the court to proceed to facilitate a speedy trial," Uriri said.

Biti, who led the MDC’s team in negotiating a unity government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, says the charges were trumped up to hobble the opposition.

The state has not vigorously pursued the case in a sign that Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party wanted to see the unity government take off.  

Zimbabwe’s parliament passed a constitutional bill on Thursday to allow a coalition government being set up under a power-sharing deal to end severe political and economic crisis.

Tsvangirai agreed last week to join a unity government with the ruling party after months of wrangling over ministerial posts had stalled the agreement signed last September.

The vote on Thursday was the first concrete step by the two parties to meet a deadline set by leaders from the Southern Africa Development Community for a unity government to be in place by February 13 to focus Zimbabwe on its humanitarian problems.

More than half of Zimbabwe is surviving on food aid and the population is also struggling with the world’s highest inflation rate of over 231 million percent as of July last year.

The southern African state has also been devastated by a cholera epidemic which has according to the latest U.N. figures killed 3,371 people since August and affected 67,945.

Zimbabwe’s health and education systems have collapsed under an economic crisis that has left eight of 10 people out of employment in the once prosperous country. Reuters