Lawyers believe the activists could face additional charges relating to terrorism that carry much harsher sentences of life imprisonment or the death penalty under the nation's sweeping security laws.

Beating 'deserved'

 
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe president, confirmed earlier this week that Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, had been assaulted, and that he deserved it.
 
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He told supporters the day after returning from a regional summit in Tanzania: "Yes, I told them he was beaten but he asked for it."

  

Tsvangirai's arrest and subsequent assault on March 11 while trying to attend an anti-government rally was widely condemned by the West.

 

But the SADC summit, which was meant to address the crisis in Zimbabwe, ended up with a statement of "solidarity" with the 83-year-old Mugabe's government.

 

Mugabe chosen
 
Mugabe has been chosen by his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic-Front (Zanu-PF) party to stand again as its candidate in 2008 presidential elections. 

Mugabe will seek another term as president,
having won his party's endorsement [AFP]

The decision was taken on Friday after a Zanu-PF central committee session in Harare and came despite growing opposition to Africa's oldest leader.

 

The opposition MDC called the decision a "tragedy" for the country, saying Mugabe had already mismanaged the country for 27 years.

 

Tendai Biti, the party's secretary-general, said: "This country will not move so long as Mugabe is there."

 

"It's also a shame on Mugabe's part. After mismanaging the country for 27 years, he now wants to stand for another five years."

 

Economic crisis

 

Mugabe was endorsed by the central committee despite being widely blamed for the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.

 

Nathan Shamuyarira, the party spokesman, said: "The candidate for the party in 2008 will be the president himself. He was endorsed by the central committee."

 

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, secretary-general of the faction, said: "The leadership of the ruling party has failed this country and they will have to explain this to future generations of what they did."

 

Sean McCormack, a US state department spokesman, called the decision "sad" and "outrageous", adding that "we hope better for the Zimbabwean people".

Source: Agencies