Biti blasts Zanu-PF

Following Roy Bennett’s arrest on Friday on what his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party says were treason charges, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the move was an ominous start for the unity government sworn in the same day.

"Bennett’s arrest proves what we have always argued: that Zanu-PF is not yet ready to work with anyone," said Biti, referring to Mugabe’s party.

However Biti, who has been the Zimbabwe opposition MDC party’s number two and faced treason charges himself in the past, ruled out a pull-out.

"Sadly we are forced to stay in this arrangement for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe," he said.

The MDC said in a statement that "the police are now saying they cannot lay formal charges for now and will try and work out formal charges on Monday".

Political motives

"These charges have been long discredited and have been shown, like all treason charges levelled against MDC leadership, to be driven by vindictive political motives," it added.

Bennett, designated to become deputy agriculture minister, was arrested on Friday at an airport outside Harare shortly before Mugabe swore in new ministers for the unity government.

The power sharing government will see the country’s bitter enemies try and work together to pull Zimbabwe out of a deep crisis marked by hunger, the world’s highest inflation rate and a deadly cholera epidemic.

The fiesty Bennett struck an upbeat note in a statement issued on Saturday through his lawyer.

"Whatever these challenges, if we remain unwaveringly dedicated, we will achieve peace, freedom and democracy in our life time – believe me," he said.

Tsvangirai, a veteran opposition leader and a persistent thorn in Mugabe’s side, struck a conciliatory tone on Friday before the new government took oath.

"Unfortunately people are preoccupied with Mugabe as a person," he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, referring to his arch-foe, who has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain.

"Mugabe is part of the problem, but he is also part of the solution. He is not the obstacle we are now facing."