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New Zimbabwean Cabinet Meets - But Confrontation Over Political Arrests Looms

Zimbabwe's new cabinet met for the first time on Tuesday in the Munhumutapa government building in Harare, chaired by President Robert Mugabe, but political sources said that a more critical test of the executive powers of Mr. Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would come in the first session of the national security council created by parliament.

The panel was created to coordinate and control security agencies whose leaders are hostile to Mr. Tsvangirai, long in the opposition, and, say observers, to power-sharing itself.

Tsvangirai spokesman James Maridadi says his boss met separately later with Mr. Mugabe followed by a discussion with Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengenwi on re-engaging the international community and refurbishing Zimbabwe's national image.

Maridadi told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the first cabinet meeting went well and lasted for two hours, but he declined to disclose the agenda.

Political observer Earnest Mudzengi, a senior official of the National Constitutional Assembly, said the first cabinet meeting showed that there is no going back on the deal.

Meanwhile pressure was mounting on the new government to effect the release of deputy agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett, treasurer of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, and about 30 other political prisoners.

Bennett’s lawyer, Trust Maanda, said his client appeared in court Tuesday in Mutare to face two charges: possessing weapons with the intention of toppling the government and trying to leave Zimbabwe without clearing immigrations. Bennett was taken off a plane and arrested at Charles Prince Airport outside Harare on Friday, the day the cabinet was sworn in.

Maanda said Magistrate Livingstone Chipadze is to rule on Wednesday if the charges warrant being pursued. Government sources said the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee co-chaired by all the parties to the power-sharing arrangement was to meet Wednesday to examine the Bennett case and those of other political or civic activists being held.

International pressure for the release of the political prisoners stepped up. U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, described the arrest of the MDC official as “shocking,” calling for Western sanctions to be continued until he is freed.

Amnesty International urged the African Union and United Nations to send monitors to look into human rights violations by Zimbabwean security agencies during the transition.

In addition to Bennett's arrest it cited those of 10 activists in Bulawayo - seven members of the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise and three Radio Dialogue staff held in that city.

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