A court in Zimbabwe on Friday found opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai innocent of treason charges that he plotted to murder President Robert Mugabe with the help of a Canadian.

Tsvangirai was charged two weeks before the country's 2002 election, which he narrowly lost to Mugabe.

Hundreds of his supporters danced and cheered outside the courthouse when the verdict was delivered as his wife Susan hugged him.

"The judge arrived at his conclusion on facts that spoke for themselves," said Tsvangirai. "To have arrived at any other conclusion would have been absurd."

The charges, based on state accusations, hinged on a videotaped meeting in Montreal with Canadian-based political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe.

Prosecutors based their case on a grainy, 4.5-hour videotape, in which prosecutors said Tsvangirai dis cussed the "elimination" of Mugabe with Ben-Menashe.

However, Tsvangirai says the word "elimination" was used in the political sense, meaning he would defeat Mugabe in the election and remove him from government.

In his one hour and 20 minute judgement, Harare High Court Judge Paddington Garwe said there is no proof Tsvangirai asked Ben Menashe to help assassinate Mugabe.

Tsvangirai leads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the main challenger to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

He's facing a second treason charge for allegedly calling for the violent removal of Mugabe during a speech. No trial date has been set and Tsvangirai is free on bail.

During the trial, which started about 20 months ago, Tsvangirai's lawyer argued Ben-Menashe was working for the Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organization to entrap him. Evidence during the trial showed Ben Menashe received $650,000 from the Zimbabwe intelligence service.

Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since it gained independence from Britain in 1980. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accused him of rigging the 2002 presidential election and ruining the economy.

Since his victory, Mugabe has handpicked judges for the country's courts, closed independent presses and imposed a security law that stifles freedom of speech.

Zimbabwe has been isolated from the international community since the elections, which were widely denounced as flawed and fraudulent.