Police arrest 10 MDC MPs

"I have received a report to the effect that 10 of our MPs have been detained by the police. We are still unclear as to the circumstances and motive of the arrest," spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

The arrests are likely to raise tension in the unity government Tsvangirai formed with his rival, President Robert Mugabe, to end the political crisis in the southern African country.

The ten MPs were detained Wednesday for allegedly causing disturbances at finance ministry offices, a lawyer for the party said.

"Ten members of parliament belonging to the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) have been detained at Harare central," lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe told AFP.

"They have been detained for causing disturbances at the offices belonging to the permanent secretary at the ministry of finance.

"I do not have the details, as to what sort disturbances and I am not sure what sort charges will be laid against them," Mugabe said.

Finance minister Tendai Biti, who is also the MDC secretary general, said finance secretary Willard Manungo had told him the incident had taken place while Manungo was at a meeting.

"I would also want to know why they have been taken by the police. I do not know, and he does not know, who called the police and what the issue is about," Biti said.

It is believed the MPs had gone to the offices to make enquiries about their cars which they are entitled to under a controversial parliamentary vehicle loan scheme.

A number of MDC lawmakers have been arrested over various petty crimes in recent months, prompting the party to describe the arrests as an effort by President Robert Mugabe’s party to reduce the MDC’s majority in parliament.

Earlier this month the state withdrew its case against a junior MDC minister arrested in connection with the alleged theft of a cellphone, following the dismissal of a case against an MP who allegedly played a song that denigrated Mugabe.

In February, the MDC formed a unity government with Zanu PF, ending almost three decades of absolute rule by the 85-year-old leader. – AFP

Tsvangirai’s MDC, which defeated Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in last year’s Parliamentary polls, accuses Mugabe of plotting to whittle down its majority by arresting its lawmakers on various charges.

The MDC won 100 seats in the 210-member lower house of Parliament against Zanu-PF’s 99. A smaller faction of the MDC won 10 seats, and an independent holds the one remaining seat.

Before Wednesday’s arrests, at least seven MDC MPs faced charges that the party described as trumped up, and five have already been convicted of various crimes.

Four of them were sentenced to more than six months in jail, which automatically disqualifies them from holding their Parliamentary seats, according to Zimbabwean law.