Zimbabwe rights lawyer, PM's aides denied bail

A Zimbabwean magistrate on Wednesday denied bail to four aides to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and their lawyer, whose arrests marred a constitutional referendum last weekend.

"The court denies all the accused persons bail," ruled magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa after two days of hearings in the capital, Harare.

He said the staffers were facing serious charges including breaching state secrets laws, and so did not qualify for bail.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer who has represented the opposition and rights activists, was also denied bail after her arrest for allegedly shouting at the police during a raid of the prime minister's communications office on Sunday.

"The commotion and shouting can hinder the police in carrying out their investigations accordingly. Bail application is denied," Gofa said.

A court had earlier ordered Mtetwa's release from police custody, but the order was ignored by police.

The arrests marred a largely peaceful referendum Saturday on a new constitution, which was approved by nearly 95 percent of voters.

The constitution is meant to pave the way for new elections to replace Tsvangirai's uncomfortable power-sharing government with arch-rival and veteran President Robert Mugabe.

It curtails the president's powers and sets a limit of two five-year terms.