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drops charges against activists
Alec Russell, Financial Times (UK)
October 09, 2007
Zimbabwean state prosecutors
have dropped charges against 22 activists from the opposition Movement
for Democratic Change, in a rare climb down by the autocratic regime
of President Robert Mugabe.
The defendants, who included
a member of parliament, were arrested between March and April as
part of a crackdown on the MDC, which included a brutal assault
on Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of one its wings, and his supporters.
The activists were accused
of being trained in South Africa to commit "terrorism"
and of responsibility for a series of petrol bomb attacks on official
buildings. The MDC denied the charges and said the attacks were
carried out by state agents provocateurs to justify a clampdown
on the opposition.
Defence lawyers on Tuesday
said the charges had been dropped because of a lack of evidence.
But the withdrawal prompted speculation that the move was linked
to pressure on the government from South Africa, which is hosting
mediation talks between the ruling Zanu-PF party and the MDC over
the country's economic and political crisis.
"Two weeks ago
we wrote to Thabo Mbeki [the president of South Africa] warning
that if the harassment continued there was no reason we should stay
in the talks," said Eddie Cross, a senior official in Mr Tsvangirai's
wing of the MDC.
our negotiating team that if nothing was done we would back off.
It might be that Mr Mbeki has applied pressure behind the scenes
and with rapid results."
At the weekend Mr Mbeki
suggested mediation talks were close to meeting most of the opposition's
The collapse of the case
came as the government stepped up its campaign to intervene in the
last remaining functioning areas of the economy. Inflation in Zimbabwe
is the highest in the world. The official rate is nearly 7,000 per
cent but economists believe it is several times that figure.
Businessmen fear that
the new Indigenisation and Empowerment bill, which calls for the
state to have a 51 per cent stake in foreign-owned businesses, will
be the last blow to the economy.
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