Zimbabwe’s PM seeks help from regional leaders

Zimbabwe’s prime minister will be on the road this week asking other leaders in the region to “rescue” the unity government from which he temporarily withdrew, his spokesman said Monday.

Also Monday, a judge said the trial would start Nov. 9 in the weapons case that prompted Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to boycott the coalition formed in February. The unity government is seen as Zimbabwe’s best hope for resolving political and economic crises after a series of violent and inconclusive elections.

James Maridadi said the prime minister was leaving later Monday to visit Congo, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa. Congo chairs the regional group that mediated Zimbabwe’s unity government agreement between Tsvangirai and longtime President Robert Mugabe. The other nations on Tsvangirai’s itinerary, particularly South Africa, are key players in the group.

Tsvangirai announced Friday he was withdrawing from the coalition at least temporarily, citing the prosecution of one of his top aides, Roy Bennett. Tsvangirai said he remained committed to the coalition agreement, but said Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party needed to do more to make it work.

Maridadi said Tsvangirai would brief the leaders on his decision and seek “understanding and rescue” to help “resolve the outstanding issues in the inclusive government.”

ZANU-PF has said Tsvangirai’s move was meaningless and that the work of government would go on without him. Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba on Sunday said the president was too busy to address the crisis.

Tsvangirai has condemned unilateral moves by Mugabe to fill government posts, and continuing human rights violations blamed on ZANU-PF militants and security forces who report to Mugabe. But the catalyst for his move Friday was the case against Bennett, a popular party member nominated by Tsvangirai as deputy agriculture minister.

Bennett’s arrest the day the unity Cabinet was sworn in in February has been pointed to as an early sign Mugabe was not committed to the unity agreement.

Also Monday, Arthur Mutambara, the deputy prime minister and former opposition leader, said while he sympathized with Tsvangirai’s complaints he would not be pulling his party out of the unity government.

Mutambara said if he also pulled out, it would give Mugabe “room to do what he likes.”

“Mugabe must know that if the inclusive government fails he has no legitimacy. He is failing to honor the agreement by not clearing up the outstanding issues. My message to Mugabe is that he must either shape up or ship out,” he said.

Mutambara also appealed to Tsvangirai to return to the coalition, which had brought political stability and economic growth to Zimbabwe.

Nomfanelo Kota, a spokeswoman for South Africa’s foreign ministry, said Monday that her country was urging Zimbabwe’s factions to “recommit themselves to the full implementation” of the coalition agreement.

In eastern Zimbabwe, prosecutors and Bennett’s lawyers said they had agreed to a delay to give the defense more time to prepare for his trial, which had been scheduled to start Monday.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer who represents Bennett, said Attorney General Johannes Tomana appeared Monday for the prosecution, a measure of the trial’s importance. Mtetwa said she and Tomana referred to the political ramifications and told the judge they wanted the case resolved quickly.

Bennett denies the charges.

The case dates to 2006, when a weapons dealer was arrested and initially accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe. The dealer, who was eventually convicted of lesser weapons charges, told reporters he was tortured after his arrest and forced to make a false confession implicating several people from both Mugabe’s party and Tsvangirai’s party in the alleged plot. No one else had been tried, and Bennett had not been linked to the case until his arrest this year.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.