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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai's Party Faces Tough Choices After Bennett Arrest

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change found itself in a deepening quandary on Thursday following the indictment and jailing of the party's treasurer, Roy Bennett, on weapons and terrorism charges.

Mr. Tsvangirai has been under mounting pressure from elements in his MDC grouping to take a firmer stance with President Robert Mugabe and ministers and officials of the ZANU-PF party to heed the terms of the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power-sharing.

Bennett's indictment by a magistrate and remand back into judicial custody has turned up the heat on what has long been a simmering cauldron of irritation within the MDC, which is currently in the midst of sounding its supporters on continued participation in the unity government formed eight months ago leaving many key issues unresolved.

Numerous lawmakers of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation have been charged and some have been convicted of offenses that could send them to prison, which would likely result in the loss of their seats in Parliament - which the MDC says is ZANU-PF's ultimate objective. The former ruling party lost its House majority to the MDC in last year's elections.

VOA Studio 7 Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that Mr. Tsvangirai called a meeting of his party’s top-echelon standing committee to discuss the crisis.

Tsvangirai spokesman James Maridadi told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the prime minister did not cancel a session of the Council of Ministers set for Thursday but postponed it so he could focus on the crisis around Bennett.

Maridadi said Mr. Tsvangirai reached his decision to put off the Council of Ministers meeting after he was unable to arrange a meeting with President Robert Mugabe, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, said to have snubbed him.

Several MDC lawmakers and party officials, some of whom traveled to Mutare where Bennett was being held in the eastern city's remand prison, were initially denied access to him. But party sources said prison authorities later allowed MDC officials to meet with Bennett.

The initial delegation was led by Deputy Local Government Minister Sesil Zvidzai and Member of Parliament Pishai Muchauraya for Makoni South constituency in Manicaland province, Mutare Mayor Brian James and Manicaland Chairman Patrick Chitaka, MDC sources said.

Zvidzai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the Zimbabwean justice system is now a matter of shame to many Zimbabweans.

London-based political analyst Julius Mutyambizi-Dewa said the latest development in the long-running Bennett case shows ZANU-PF's contempt for its governing partners.

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