Zimbabwe: Alleged coup plotters deny treason charges

Six suspects including a former army officer accused of plotting a coup to oust Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe denied charges of treason, the official media reported today.

Lawyers applied for the suspects to be freed on bail at the Harare High Court on Friday after they denied treason charges, saying they were only recruiting for a new opposition political party, The Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said.

Judge Tedias Karwe postponed the bail hearing to an unspecified date to await submissions from state prosecutors, the paper said.

It said prosecutors alleged the men, led by retired soldier Albert Mugove Mutapo, 40, conspired from June 2006 until their arrests last month to overthrow Mugabe.

Mutapo planned with the others to recruit soldiers, members of the air force and police to topple Mugabe and replace him with Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Meetings were held with some serving military personnel.

Mutapo wanted to use servicemen to take over all military camps and remove Mugabe, the state alleged, according to The Herald.

Mutapo would then announce he was in control of the nation and invite Mnangagwa and service chiefs to form a government, the paper said. Mutapo himself would be given a new government post of prime minister, it was alleged.

The Herald said the suspects were arrested last month when they were holding a meeting on the plot in offices at a Harare apartment building.

Defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange, according to the paper, told Judge Karwe the men denied treason charges, saying they were arrested while forming a new political party to be called the United Democratic Front.

“Their discussions with prospective members were not for criminal purposes but for recruiting potential supporters,” Samkange said.

The paper quoted Samkange as saying Mutapo denied knowing Mnangagwa personally. It identified the suspects arrested with him as Nyasha Zivuka, 32, Oncemore Mudzurahona, 41, Emmanuel Marara, 40, Patson Mupfure, 46, and Shingirai Mutemachani, 20.

None was identified as a member of the military. Earlier reports had said two of the suspects were serving soldiers.

The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, a respected business and political weekly, said on Friday one of its journalists saw documents relating to two earlier court hearings on the alleged plot held behind closed doors.

It said Mnangagwa, leader of one of two main rival factions in Mugabe’s ruling party, described claims of his possible involvement as “stupid” and said he knew nothing of any alleged coup plot.

Embattled Zimbabweans are facing deepening hardships in the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.

Official inflation announced in April of 3,714%, the highest in the world, was expected already to have surged after prices generally doubled across the board in April and continued to rise at a similar pace. Official calculations for May have not yet been released by the Central Statistical Office.

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