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Zimbabwe opposition's Tendai Biti charged after asylum bid fails

Ex-finance minister ordered to surrender his passport and banned from addressing political rallies until case is over.

Tendai Biti

Zimbabwe's former finance minister and leading opposition figure Tendai Biti has been charged with inciting public violence and declaring unofficial election results as fears grew about a government crackdown following the country's recent elections.

The court appearance on Thursday followed events in which Biti fled to Zambia, was denied asylum and was handed over to Zimbabwean security forces in defiance of a Zambian court order.

Police in Zimbabwe were looking for Biti and eight other opposition figures for allegedly fomenting violence following the July 30 vote in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner amid opposition calls of foul play.

They and several others were accused of "possession of dangerous weapons" and "subversive material", as well as "public violence," according to a copy of the warrant.

State prosecutors did not oppose bail, which was set at $5,000. Biti was ordered to surrender title deeds to his house and his passport, and has been banned from addressing political rallies or news conferences until the case is over.

If found guilty, Biti faces up to 10 years in jail, a cash fine or both.

Speaking in court to lawyers and the media Biti said: "They wanted to abduct me (on Wednesday), I was terrified."

The United Nations refugee agency said it was "gravely concerned" about the reports of Biti's forced return to Zimbabwe, calling such move a serious violation of international law.

A joint statement by the heads of missions in Zimbabwe of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia urgently called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee Biti's safety and respect his rights.

It said diplomats were "deeply disturbed" by reports of security forces targeting the opposition.

The polls were the first without longtime president Robert Mugabe on the ballot form, who was forced to resign in November after a military intervention.

Biti, a newly elected member of parliament for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), last week urged opposition supporters to defend their votes in the disputed ballot, saying MDC candidate Nelson Chamisa had won the presidential race.

The day after Biti's remarks, the military opened fire to disperse opposition protesters in the streets of Harare. 

The opposition alliance called the state's response "disproportionate and unjustified".

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