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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai Threatens to Exit Gov't as Senior MDC Official Arrested

Tsvangirai said the government is dysfunctional and that he will push for fresh elections under a road-map drawn up by the Southern African Development Community

The Movement for Democratic Change formation of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of the unity government in protest of Thursday’s arrest of Energy Minister Elton Mangoma on charges related to fuel procurement.

Mr. Tsvangirai issued the threat later Thursday during a hastily convened news conference in Harare following the arrest of Mangoma, a senior part official.

He said the unity government is dysfunctional and that he will push for fresh elections under a road-map drawn up by the Southern African Development Community. Tsvangirai said the arrrest of Mangoma “strikes to the heart” of the uneasy coalition government.

“If there's a breakdown in the relationship of the parties in the GPA, it is important for the parties to agree on a clean divorce. As far as we are concerned, the road-map that [South African] President Zuma has committed himself to draw up is the only solution to this madness. There’s obviously a breakdown in the relationship between parties,” Tsvangirai said.

“We’ve reached a moment where we’re saying ‘let’s agree that this coalition isn’t working. It’s dysfunctional," the prime minister and former opposition leader said.

Almost simultaenously the Supreme Court dealt Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC branch another major blow in nullifying Lovemore Moyo's election as speaker of the House of Assembly.

Tsholotsho North lawmaker Jonathan Moyo of ZANU-PF, a former information minister, and three other legislators challenged Moyo’s election in August 2008 claiming breaches of House rules on secret balloting. Moyo argued that it was his duty to make sure that a new Zimbabwe was not built on "a platform of fraud".

Jonathan Moyo argued in High Court that lawmakers from the Tsvangirai MDC were pressured into displaying their ballots to senior party officials as proof they had indeed voted for the party’s choice of candidate. High Court Justice Bharat Patel ruled in favor of Speaker Moyo in March 2010 while acknowledged the election was imperfect.

Ruling Thursday in the case, the Supreme Court quashed Moyo’s election as speaker.

The MDC politician's spokesman, Xolani Zitha, said the Matopo lawmaker was still reviewing the judgment and would comment in due course.

Reached by VOA, Zimbabwe Republic Police spokeman Wayne Bvudzijena declined to comment on the charges brought against Mangoma or provide details on his detention. Police sources said the arrest was made in connection with an allegedly irregular tender for fuel awarded to Nooa Petroleum of South Africa.

Police sources said Mangoma is accused of embezzling $4.4 million in the course of the deal with Nooa. They said Noaa won the tender but failed to deliver.

Mangoma is alleged to have circumvented the state procurement board process in the fuel procurement deal. Reached in South Africa, Nooa Petroleum Chief Operating Officer Joel Chikapa Phiri said three quarters of the fuel has been supplied.

Phiri declined to comment further saying a purely commercial deal has been politicised.

Mangoma's lawyer Seby Hwacha said Mangoma is being held at Braeside Police Station

Meanwhile, a bail hearing for Douglas Mwonzora, co-chairman of Parliament’s select committee for constitutional revision, was put off again by Harare High Court to Friday amid concerns his incarceration will further delay the constitutional process.

The Nyanga North legislator has been in police custody for two weeks with 23 others, accused of committing public violence.

Select committee spokesperson Jesse Majome told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that Mwonzora‘s absence has hurt committee operations as some of the decisions that need to be made cannot be taken in his absence.

Majome said the committee’s target date for completing a draft is slipping to October or November of this year, rather than September as had been hoped.

Elsewhere, the Supreme Court threwe out a state appeal of the acquittal of Roy Bennett on charges he conspired to overthrow the earlier Mugabe government. But Bennett, who is in exile in South Africa, has vowed not to returrn home fearing further political persecution as he characterized the numerous proceedings against him.

Bennett, treasurer of the Tsvangirai MDC formation, was acquitted last May by a High Court justice who ruled the state had not linked him to the alleged plot. Bennett’s case is an issue within the unity government: President Mugabe has refused to swear him in as deputy agriculture minister citing the standing charges against him.

Bennett told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that he is gratified by the Supreme Court - but added that the Zimbabwean judiciary still needs reform.

For more on the significance of Thursday’s events, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to political analysts Joy Mabenge of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe and Livingstone Dzikira of the Zimbabwe Youth Council.

Mabenge said Mangoma’s arrest and the nullification of Moyo's election as speaker are intended to destabilize the MDC ahead of possible elections this year.