7 Feb 2009

Judge frees MDC official

11:13 am on 7 February 2009

A judge in Zimbabwe has dropped charges of treason against an official of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Secretary general Tendai Biti faced a possible death sentence after being accused of plotting a coup against President Robert Mugabe.

But Magistrate Olivia Mariga said prosecutors appeared unprepared to proceed against Mr Biti.

The BBC reports the decision was announced the day after parliament unanimously passed a constitutional amendment, creating the post of prime minister for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

President Robert Mugabe is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The MDC wants all of its jailed supporters and activists to be freed before Mr Tsvangirai takes office.

Ms Mariga also ruled Mr Biti was improperly arrested when he was detained in June.

However, prosecutors could still revive the case by issuing a summons.

Mr Biti said he was happy at the court's decision and remained defiant.