Zimbabwean court frees PM Tsvangirai's aides on bail

HARARE Wed Mar 27, 2013 11:13am EDT

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister and President of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai (R) and his wife Elizabeth cast his vote in a referendum at a polling station in Harare March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister and President of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai (R) and his wife Elizabeth cast his vote in a referendum at a polling station in Harare March 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Four aides of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were freed on bail on Wednesday, more than a week after their arrest drew criticism of President Robert Mugabe's security forces in an election year.

The four, along with prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, had been arrested for breaching official secrets law.

Critics accuse Mugabe of using state security to intimidate and crack down on opponents. The 89-year-old leader, who has ruled the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980, denies the allegations.

The detentions came a day after Zimbabweans overwhelmingly voted for a new constitution that seeks to curb the presidency and expand civil liberties.

"I am of the firm view that granting bail with strict conditions will meet the justice of this case," High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu said when overturning last week's decision by a lower court to deny the four bail.

The bail for the four was set at $500. Mtetwa was granted bail for the same amount on Monday.

Mugabe agreed to share power with Tsvangirai four years ago after a violent and disputed election and the uneasy coalition has managed to stabilize an economy wrecked by hyper-inflation.

The two bitter rivals will face each other for the third time in a presidential poll later this year, which will determine if Mugabe.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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