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Zimbabwe in crisis

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says he cannot work with President Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), addresses a news conference at his party's office in the capital Harare, Oct. 16, 2009. The MDC said it would boycott the country's power-sharing government until sticking points have been resolved and a political deal is reached, sparking the biggest crisis since the administration was formed nine months ago. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

BOSTON – Zimbabwe’s government is locked in crisis over the jailing of opposition leader Roy Bennett.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai vowed he would not attend cabinet meetings with President Robert Mugabe to protest the government’s hounding of Bennett and others. Even though Bennett was released on bail late Friday, Tsvangirai said other issues needed to be resolved before he and his MDC party returned to full cooperation with Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

While Tsvangirai stopped short of quitting the government, he warned that if the crisis was not resolved he would call for elections to be held under United Nations supervision.

Although Bennett, one of Tsvangirai’s closest allies, was freed on bail Friday, he must still stand trial on what are widely regarded as trumped-up charges of plotting to violently overthrow Mugabe’s government.

Bennett is wildly popular with black supporters of Tsvangirai and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). They call the burly Bennett "Pachedu," which in Shona means "one of us." The popularity of a former white farmer infuriates Mugabe.

Tsvangirai and the MDC charge that Mugabe is using his control of the courts and the police to unfairly attack Bennett and others.

For months Tsvangirai has said that Mugabe must revoke the appointment of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana.

“The Attorney-General’s office is being used by Zanu-PF for persecuting and not prosecuting MDC officials,” the MDC said after Bennett’s release. The party charged that the re-jailing and release of Bennett vindicates its position that the case “is 100 percent politics and zero percent law.”

The MDC said that Bennett’s case “is just but one of the several instances where national institutions such as the Attorney General’s office have been abused by Zanu-PF to achieve its political ends. It vindicates the position taken by the national executive that all outstanding issues, including the issue of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, must be resolved urgently.”

Until then Prime Minister Tsvangirai and the MDC’s other cabinet ministers pledged not to meet in cabinet with Mugabe or his cabinet ministers. The decision places Zimbabwe in a tense constitutional crisis that threatens the unwieldy coalition government.

“Bennett may have been released from jail but he is still being tried on charges that virtually all independent lawyers say are trumped up,” a Zimbabwean editor in Harare told GlobalPost on condition of anonymity.

“To throw Bennett back in jail was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “Tsvangirai has been at pains to propitiate Mugabe but in return Mugabe has dealt in bad faith and has attacked the MDC at every turn. Tsvangirai is also under pressure to pull out of this government by the rank and file of his party who have seen little benefit from the coalition.”