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Tsvangirai rules out foul play in car crash

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday ruled out foul play as the cause of a car crash that injured him and killed his wife Susan, easing concerns that it would increase tensions in the new government.

Tsvangirai must cope with his grief alongside the enormous pressure of trying to rescue the shattered economy in a new unity government with President Robert Mugabe, his old rival.

After returning home from treatment for minor injuries in Botswana, Tsvangirai told mourners that despite speculation over the cause of the accident the chance of foul play being involved was only “one in 1,000.

“It was an accident which unfortunately took a life. I am sure that life has to go on and I’m sure she would have liked for life to go on,” he said.

Many Zimbabweans are suspicious about Friday’s crash on a dangerous potholed highway, neglected like many others during the country’s economic decline.

The driver of the truck that slammed into Tsvangirai’s vehicle and forced it to roll off the road appeared at a court in Chivhu, 150 km (around 90 miles) south of Harare, on Monday, accompanied by three plain-clothed policemen.

Chinoona Mwanda was granted bail and remanded to return to court on March 23. “He’s quite distressed, he’s yet to come to grips with the reality that life was lost,” his lawyer, Chris Mhike, told reporters.

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Tsvangirai’s wife of 31 years, a pillar of strength during 10 often trying years of opposition to Mugabe, is expected to be buried on Wednesday. Tuesday’s cabinet meeting was postponed to Thursday to allow ministers to attend the funeral.

“It will be difficult to fill in the gap. We have gone through trials and tribulations together, I know it’s painful, but let’s mourn with hope,” said Tsvangirai, his face swollen from injuries sustained in the crash.

The death has raised questions over how quickly Tsvangirai can recover from the loss and get down to tackling an economic meltdown that has brought 90 percent unemployment, hyperinflation and shortages of basic foods and fuel.

“I don’t think this will have any significant impact on the inclusive government and how he operates in it, except that the MDC should now demand higher security for the prime minister,” said political commentator and Mugabe critic John Makumbe.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal in September and formed a government after months of wrangling.

Tsvangirai must find a way to work with Mugabe and win over Western donors who insist on democracy and economic reforms in Zimbabwe before providing aid. The arrest of activists and other issues have created friction between them.

“Apart from the tragedy itself, I am worried about Tsvangirai’s own emotional and mental state. The country needs him badly,” said Tonderai Chari, an office worker.

“Who knows? Some good might come out of this, after all. The president visiting Tsvangirai in hospital might be the beginning of better relations, despite these sad circumstances.”