Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Arrested

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Zimbabwean security forces arrested Friday a senior opposition figure. The detention highlighted the difficulties facing the political marriage between longtime President Robert Mugabe and his new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On the very day Zimbabwe's power-sharing cabinet was sworn in, the arrest of one minister and a dispute over others got the new government off to a very rocky start. The row again raises serious questions about whether the new political partnership will work. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the capitol, Harare.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: The arrest of Roy Bennett, a leading member of the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party and Zimbabwe's nominee as deputy agriculture minister, did not stop the new unity cabinet from being sworn in collectively.

(Soundbite of swearing-in ceremony)

But Bennett's arrest cast a pall over a day that was supposed to cement the political marriage between Zimbabwe's longtime president, Robert Mugabe, and his arch rival, Tsvangirai. Today's ceremony comes nearly a year after disputed presidential elections. And the deep-seated mistrust that dogged the months of power-sharing talks resurfaced. Tsvangirai's party alleged that Mugabe had appointed additional ministers not included in the agreement. But in an interview with the BBC, Tsvangirai said that the government of unity had to work.

Mr. MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (Prime Minister, Zimbabwe): We've reached a stage now where we say, we have to have a negotiated settlement for the sake of the people.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Mugabe, too, made an effort to sound conciliatory in his speech after swearing in the ministers.

Mr. ROBERT MUGABE (President, Zimbabwe): I am committed. I mean it.

(Soundbite of clapping)

Mr. MUGABE: When I say I will want to work with you sincerely and honestly, I mean it. And I want to believe that when my colleagues say the same things to me, I should believe it.

QUIST-ARCTON: But many see the arrest of Bennett as sheer provocation, and an act of bad faith and disdain by Mugabe, flexing his political muscles. Meanwhile, Zimbabweans are just hoping their leaders will focus on the priorities - rebuilding the country and the economy in the face of widespread hunger, a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands, the collapse of most public services and near-total joblessness.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare.

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