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Opposition Leader Pleads Not Guilty in Zimbabwe

February 04, 2003|From Times Wire Services

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two other men appeared in court Monday to face charges of plotting to assassinate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and seize power in the troubled southern African country.

If convicted, the three could face the death penalty. All pleaded not guilty Monday.

The case centers on a secretly recorded videotape of a 2001 meeting between Tsvangirai and Ari ben Menashe, in which the opposition leader purportedly sought help to "eliminate" Mugabe.

Ben Menashe claims to be a former Israeli intelligence officer and arms dealer and now heads a Canadian consulting firm.

Tsvangirai said the firm had offered to help the opposition clean up its image in the West. But Ben Menashe, who was secretly working for the government and is the main state witness, said Tsvangirai wanted him to kill Mugabe.

Tsvangirai has called the accusations a "frame-up." After he was formally charged last February -- just weeks before a presidential election, which he lost -- the U.S. government said there was no convincing evidence against him and the others, and that the charges were an effort to repress the opposition.

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