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Zimbabwe Police Detain Opposition Leader, Charge Top Aide With Treason

Zimbabwe authorities detained opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai on two separate occasions Thursday as he attempted to address voters in the country's Midlands province, and separately arrested the secretary general of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party on treason charges.

Tsvangirai was released late Thursday after hours at a police station in the Midlands capital of Gweru. Earlier in the day he was held for more than two hours by police in the Midlands town of Kwekwe before being released along with his entourage.

Earlier in the day police arrested MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti at the Harare airport following his arrival back in the country from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Biti's whereabouts were not clear but police said he faced treason charges. Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said the treason charge arose from an MDC document that allegedly discussed changing Zimbabwe's government.

Police had been seeking Biti on charges that he proclaimed victory for the party after the country's March 29 presidential, general and local elections before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had released official results from the ballot.

Elsewhere, the state-controlled "Herald" newspaper quoted Vice President Joseph Msika as saying that voting for Tsvangirai would be like voting for war.

Msika promised that "trouble" would start if a Tsvangirai government tried to reverse the land reform which President Robert Mugabe's government launched in 2000 and which is blamed by most analysts for the subsequent collapse of the economy.

MDC sources said Tsvangirai was first detained Thursday at a roadblock in Midlands with his entourage, which included members of parliament-elect Blessing Chebundo of Kwekwe and Editor Matamisa of the Kadoma Central constituency.

Tsvangirai had just launched a “meet the people” tour on a "New Zimbabwe Bus" the opposition party had put on the road just one day earlier in Harare. The opposition leader has repeatedly been detained since launching his campaign.

Thursday morning Tsvangirai took his campaign to Chegutu, Mashonaland West. But soon after he left the home of Chegutu parliamentarian Takalani Matibe, the house was destroyed by ruling party militants and Matibe was arrested by local police.

In a similar incident, Chebundo’s home in rural Hurungwe, Mashonaland West was burned. Sources said most of Chebundo's relatives have been hospitalized.

Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the authorities are harassing the Tsvangirai campaign to prevent the MDC leader from reaching the electorate to campaign for president.

Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that MDC headquarters officials reacted angrily to the news of Tsvangirai's detention and Biti's arrest.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...