Lawyer urges bail for Zimbabwe opposition leader


Lawyers for jailed Zimbabwean opposition leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai urged a judge today to free him on bail, saying treason charges were being used to silence him.

At Mr Tsvangirai's bail hearing, dozens of MDC supporters stood in solidarity as he entered the courtroom, his fourth court appearance since he was detained.

Defence lawyer George Bizos said the President Robert Mugabe's government was playing "fast and loose" with the law and urged Justice Susan Mavangira to release his client - who lost to Mr Mugabe in what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election last year.

Mr Bizos, who defended Mr Nelson Mandela in his South African treason trial four decades ago, said denying Mr Tsvangirai bail would silence a man who won more than a million votes in the disputed 2002 presidential election. "By keeping political opponents silent, the difficulties with which the country is faced are not solved," he added.

Mr Tsvangirai, a 51-year-old former trade union leader, has emerged as the biggest threat to Mr Mugabe's 23 years in power as Zimbabwe plunges deeper into political and economic crisis.

The opposition, which accuses the president of repressive rule and ruining the economy, described last week's protests as a "final push" against the president. The government used police and army units against the demonstrators in a crackdown the MDC said included hundreds of arrests.

A lower court ordered Mr Tsvangirai on Tuesday to be held in detention until July 10th unless granted bail by the High Court.

Mr Tsvangirai already faces a possible death sentence in a separate treason trial for an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe in 2002.