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Zimbabwe Court Clears PM Tsvangirai Aide Bennett in Controversial Treason Case

Judge Chinembiri Bhunu ruled that the state had failed to prove Bennett conspired with impeached state witness Michael Peter Hitschmann to assassinate Mr. Mugabe and overthrow his government in 2006

A Zimbabwean High court judge on Monday acquitted Roy Bennett, treasurer of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, of charges he conspired to overthrow President Robert Mugabe's former government in 2006, paving the way for him to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister.

VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that Justice Chinembiri Bhunu ruled that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bennett possessed arms of war and conspired with impeached state witness Michael Peter Hitschmann to assassinate Mr. Mugabe and topple his government in 2006.

Observers have applauded the decision saying it signals a more independent judiciary as opposed to a political concession from ZANU-PF, which has in the past exerted a strong influence on the courts.

South African based political analyst George Mkhwanazi says the acquittal will go a long way to helping end the stalemate in the Harare unity government by lifting an obstacle to Bennett’s swearing in by Mr. Mugabe.

Reports said however that the power-sharing partners may soon have another issue on their hands. The Standard, a weekly newspaper, reported on the weekend that President Mugabe has decided to appoint former Electoral Commission Chief George Chiweshe as Judge President of the High Court, replacing Rita Makarau.

Chiweshe was sharply criticized for his conduct of the 2008 elections, especially the presidential election whose first-round results did not emerge for more than a month, leading to a runoff marred by violence.

The newspaper quoted Deputy Justice minster Jesse Majome and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga as criticizing the president's supposed intention, saying it would be contrary to the spirit of the 2008 Global Political Agreement which set the framework for the current unity government in Harare.

Majome and Matinenga told the Standard they only heard about the supposed reshuffle as a rumor.

Johannesburg-based political analyst George Mkhwanazi told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that such a move after Bennett's acquittal would reflect the many contradictions in the so-called inclusive government.