Supreme Court orders release of top Tsvangirai aide

Zimbabwe's Supreme Court has ordered the release of Roy Bennett (pictured), Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's pick for deputy agriculture minister, in a move that may signal easing tensions in the country's troubled unity government.


REUTERS - Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ordered the release on bail of a senior MDC official on Wednesday, his lawyer said, a sign political tensions may be easing in the new unity government.

Roy Bennett, who was set to become deputy agriculture minister in the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested on Feb. 13 and charged with plotting terrorism.

The High Court ordered his release on bail but state prosecutors appealed and the case was referred to the country's highest court, stoking political friction. His lawyer said she was now working on getting Bennett out of jail.

"I don't know when (he will be released), this is a complex matter and court orders don't mean much here, but we're making every effort to get a warrant of liberation," Beatrice Mtetwa said.

On Tuesday, Mugabe joined in mourning for Tsvangirai's wife, who was killed in a car crash on Friday, and called on Zimbabweans to support his old rival, surprising many MDC supporters and winning praise from Tsvangirai's eldest son.

Thousands of MDC supporters, joined by diplomats and government representatives, gathered at the Tsvangirai's rural home in Buhera on Wednesday to bury Susan Tsvangirai.

Many Zimbabweans were suspicious about the cause of the crash but Tsvangirai, who was injured, has ruled out foul play.

Tsvangirai, who was clad in a dark suit and glasses concealing swollen eyes, did not address mourners at the burial, but several speakers praised his wife for the years she spent supporting the former opposition chief.

Tsvangirai's deputy premier Thokozani Khupe said: "She was our mother of the struggle, our pillar and foundation of the MDC and the nation as a whole and one person who has been fighting for democracy for many years ... so that each and every one of us can be free."

Australian funds

The tragedy comes at a difficult time for Tsvangirai, who needs to persuade sceptical foreign donors and investors to help rebuild an economy ravaged by hyperinflation, unemployment and crippling food and fuel shortages.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete called on the international community to help Zimbabwe, saying it had "come a long way" after forming the coalition government. "People now should go and try to help them."

Australia said on Wednesday it would provide funding to Zimbabwe's new unity government, the first Western power to announce direct support to the new administration.

"Australia will provide $10 million to help Prime Minister Tsvangirai and the so-called inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to restore basic water, sanitation and health services and relieve the suffering of the Zimbabwean people," Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement.

Australia previously gave Zimbabwe humanitarian assistance through aid agencies, but did not provide direct funding to the Mugabe government. Tsvangirai became prime minister in February under a power-sharing deal.

Zimbabwean political analyst John Makumbe said Australia's move signalled a policy shift and more countries may follow.

"This is certainly a first since the onset of the crisis and one can anticipate more such action from countries that have previously refused to deal with the Mugabe government," he said.

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