Friday, March 25, 2011

A Zimbabwean court on Friday ordered a top political ally of the prime minister to be held in jail after his second arrest this month, attorneys said, arrests that have been criticized by the prime minister's party as being politically motivated.

Energy Minister Elton Mangoma, a founder of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party, was arrested Friday over allegations that he interfered in a deal to buy equipment for the state electricity utility, said defense attorney Beatrice Mtetwa.

He was first arrested March 10 on charges he bypassed official procedures to buy gasoline from neighboring South Africa.

Mangoma denies any wrongdoing in both cases that carry a penalty of imprisonment or a fine. After his last arrest, Tsvangirai threatened to pull out of the nation's shaky two-year power sharing coalition.

Tsvangirai was scheduled to fly to South Africa on Friday for talks with South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe, over bitter disputes still dogging the coalition.

Mangoma, a former corporate executive, argued the fuel deal was signed in January to ease acute gasoline shortages after being approved by ministerial colleagues at a Cabinet meeting chaired by President Robert Mugabe.

After four nights in jail, he was freed on bail to face trial scheduled March 28.

Mtetwa on Friday described his second arrest as a deliberate attempt to return him to jail in violation of bail conditions granted by the Harare High Court on the first charges.

She said police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri had opposed Mangoma's bail and afterward wrote to Mugabe's Cabinet office demanding Mangoma be stripped of his ministerial duties.

Tsvangirai described Mangoma's first arrest as the act of "a barbaric and senseless dictatorship."

Tsvangirai entered into an unlikely power-sharing agreement in 2009 with Mugabe, who has been in power now for more than three decades remaining as president. Regional leaders brokered the deal after disputed, violence-plagued elections in 2008.

Mugabe has called for elections this year to end the coalition. The fresh crisis comes after a recent upsurge in political violence, a clampdown on dissent and the deployment of troops across the country in a show of force by police and military loyal to Mugabe.


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