MDC members held by police

Zimbabwean police yesterday arrested 10 opposition parliamentarians from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, charged them with disorderly conduct and later released them, their lawyer said.
The move is likely to raise tensions in the six-month-old unity government.

Cooperation between the Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is crucial as the government tries to win vital funding from foreign donors who are demanding faster political and economic reforms.

The MDC lawmakers were held at a police station for several hours after their arrest at the offices of a senior Finance Ministry official, where they had gone to enquire about MPs’ allowances and a vehicle loan scheme, their lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe told Reuters.

“They’ve been released and told they should come back tomorrow. They have been charged with disorderly conduct and behaving in an insulting, threatening and abusive manner and for a public breach of the peace,” Mugabe said.
“They had gone to the permanent secretary’s office to enquire about allowances and the vehicle scheme, but were told he was not there. They offered to wait and when he did not turn up, somebody made a report to the police.”

Mugabe said the MPs would only know today if they would be taken to court.

The police were not immediately available for comment.

President Mugabe’s opponents and the small remaining community of white farmers still complain of detentions and harassment, but the unity government has functioned better than many believed possible.

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

Before the 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.

Analysts believe the coalition has little choice but to hold together because catastrophe would follow if it fell apart.

Pic: MDC leader-Morgan Tsvangirai