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Top Zimbabwe opponent in court after failed Zambia asylum bid

AFP  |  Harare 

Western governments and the UN expressed alarm today as top opposition figure appeared in court after a dramatic attempt to flee to neighbouring and claim asylum.

Biti, a veteran figure in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was taken handcuffed into a courtroom in under a heavy police presence to face charges of public violence as well as the illegal declaration of election results.

"We will keep on fighting," he told reporters, before being granted bail of USD 5,000 on the condition that he surrenders his passport and does not address any political gatherings or conferences.

made a dash across the border Wednesday, facing allegations of inciting protests last week by proclaiming victory for the opposition in Zimbabwe's first elections since the downfall of in November.

Mugabe's successor at the of ruling party ZANU-PF, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was later declared the winner according to the official results, but the MDC claims the election was rigged.

Zambian authorities rejected Biti's plea for political asylum and handed him back to on Thursday morning, in defiance of a court ruling, according to his lawyers.

said it was "gravely concerned" by reports that Biti, an minister in Zimbabwe's 2009-2013 power-sharing government, had been deported while trying to claim asylum.

"Forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law," the UNHCR said in a statement. It urged to investigate the incident, which comes after accusations that Zimbabwe's authorities are pursuing a heavy crackdown on the opposition as it pursues its claims of electoral fraud.

said authorities had only received the ruling from its own court blocking Biti's expulsion after he had been returned. "His asylum was denied on the basis that in his country there is no breakdown in the rule of law," she told AFP, adding that himself was "running away from the due process of the law" as he was wanted by authorities.

Western nations said they were "deeply disturbed by continuing reports that opposition supporters are being targeted by members of the Zimbabwean security forces".

In a joint statement, the EU, US, Canadian and Australian missions to urged authorities to guarantee Biti's safety and human rights. "The charges are worrisome on the face of it," said US Brian Nichols, who attended the court hearing.

He added that he had spoken with Biti who "appears in good condition", and whose legal team are seeking to have the charges overturned.

Biti's deportation was likely to come up in talks between South African and his Zambian counterpart in today.

At a packed court hearing, prosecutors accused Biti of egging on protesters on August 1, urging them to pull down a Mnangagwa campaign poster while telling them: "Remove that poster, we don't want thieves in this country."

The protesters went on to burn the poster while damaging property at the offices of ruling party ZANU-PF.

The opened fire on protesters that day, killing six people and prompting an international outcry.

Mnangagwa, who is seeking to reverse Zimbabwe's economic isolation and attract desperately needed foreign investment, had vowed the elections would turn a page on Mugabe's repressive 37-year rule.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, August 09 2018. 23:30 IST