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Zimbabwe opposition protests against aide's trial

Zimbabwe's prime minister said his party was withdrawing, at least temporarily, from a coalition government with President Robert Mugabe on Friday to protest against the trial of a top aide.

Zimbabwe's prime minister said his party was withdrawing, at least temporarily, from a coalition government with President Robert Mugabe on Friday to protest against the trial of a top aide.

Morgan Tsvangirai said his Movement for Democratic Change party would not attend cabinet meetings or engage in other executive work with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to protest the charges against top aide Roy Bennett.

Bennett, the prime minister's nominee for deputy agriculture minister, is being tried on charges linked to long-discredited allegations that Tsvangirai's party was plotting to overthrow the government.

Tsvangirai's announcement comes the same day Zimbabwe's High Court ordered Bennett's release on bail.

"Roy Bennett is not being prosecuted, he is being persecuted," Tsvangirai said.

The European Union said Thursday it is "deeply concerned" about Bennett's jailing and added it regrets "that politically motivated abuse persists in the country."

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington the case against Bennett is a "blatant example of the absence of the rule of law in Zimbabwe."

An uneasy alliance

A spokesman for Mugabe's party said they were unconcerned with the prime minister's announcement. 

"If MDC wants to disengage …we don't have a problem with that," said Ephraim Masawi, a ZANU-PF spokesman.

"We were having problems with MDC, working together," he said. "We have been trying but it was not easy."

Longtime political rivals Tsvangirai and Mugabe have made for awkward partners since forming the unity government earlier this year in a marriage of convenience.

A former trade union leader, Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round of 2008's presidential election, but he pulled out of a run-off with Mugabe because of violence against his supporters.

The two parties held months of negotiations before finalizing details of the new government, which is faced with a collapsed economy and a growing health crisis.

Mugabe, who has held power since independence in 1980, had hoped forming the coalition might ease international sanctions and restore foreign aid that has been denied because of human rights complaints against his government.

Tsvangirai has said repeatedly the coalition remains the only way he sees to ensure the country's future and so stopped short of bringing down the coalition altogether.

"We are not really pulling out officially," said Tsvangirai, who maintained his party would continue to perform other parliamentary activities.

With files from the Associated Press

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