February 14, 2009 in Nation/World

Chaos, arrest unravel new Zimbabwe unity

Swearing-in of officials slowed by contentiousness
Robyn Dixon Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

Zimbabwean opposition and ruling party ministers are sworn in as Cabinet ministers Friday. Roy Bennett, an ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested Friday.
(Full-size photo)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – It was Day One for Zimbabwe’s new government of national unity on Friday, and already the paralysis had set in: The swearing-in ceremony that was supposed to usher in a new era of hope was delayed for hours by bitter squabbling.

And in a sign that hard-liners in President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party remain bitterly opposed to the new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, security forces arrested senior Tsvangirai ally Roy Bennett and charged him with treason.

Bennett, who had been named a deputy agriculture minister, was taken to Mutare police station in eastern Zimbabwe, according to the opposition. Police fired pistols to disperse opposition protesters demanding Bennett’s release, a statement from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change claimed.

A later MDC statement said the charges on Bennett were scandalous, vexatious and politically motivated.

Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader who opposed Mugabe for a decade, was sworn into office Wednesday after a unity deal designed to resolve last year’s disputed elections.

But on Friday, Mugabe tried to swear in more than 20 ministers from his own party, not the 15 the two sides originally agreed upon.

He ended up with 18 – and even senior members of MDC were confused about whether Mugabe’s last-minute maneuvering had stripped them of a majority in Cabinet.

“We are absolutely angry. We are furious. You can’t talk about power sharing when people are being arrested,” said one senior MDC member, speaking by phone from the presidential residence, State House, shortly before the swearing-in ceremony took place.

Another senior MDC figure said in addition to the 18 ZANU-PF ministers, 15 from the MDC and 3 from a smaller MDC faction were sworn in.

It was not clear Friday whether some of these would be excluded from Cabinet.

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