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Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai leaves hospital after crash

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ANGUS SHAW | March 7, 2009 01:13 PM EST | AP

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai left the hospital bandaged and mourning his wife Saturday after a car crash that his supporters blamed partly on insufficient security provided by President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change called for an investigation into the collision with a truck carrying U.S. aid, but cautioned against concluding that it was the latest assassination attempt against the longtime opposition leader.

Friday's crash nonetheless "could have been avoided" if Tsvangirai had the kind of motorcade that usually travels with Mugabe, said Tendai Biti, the country's new finance minister and Tsvangirai's No. 2 in the party. An MDC official who was traveling with Tsvangirai said the premier's Toyota Land Cruiser was accompanied by three vehicles with MDC security and one with Mugabe's agents, but not the kind of motorcade with dozens of cars and motorcycles that usually transports the president.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Tsvangirai was headed to a weekend rally in his home region when the accident occurred. State television said the truck swerved on an uneven and notoriously dangerous single-lane stretch of road on the outskirts of the capital, Harare. Tsvangirai's spokesman said the car carrying the prime minister, his wife, driver and bodyguard had sideswiped the truck and rolled at least three times.

Susan Tsvangirai, 50, was pronounced dead soon after arrival at a clinic about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Harare, said Ian Makone, a secretary in the prime minister's office and a member of his party. The state-run Herald newspaper reported that the driver and bodyguard were injured. Tsvangirai's brother, Casper, told reporters Saturday that the bodyguard had gone home and the driver remained hospitalized but not seriously injured.

Mugabe sent the prime minister's family a message that called Susan Tsvangirai's death a "tragedy that has fallen on our nation at a time of great hope for our country," state radio reported. The president also said the nation was praying that the prime minister's recovery "be swift and complete."

Biti said there should be a probe of the collision and a review of Tsvangirai's security.

"We cannot talk of foul play ... until it has been proved what has really transpired," Biti said. He did not say whether his party had requested a larger convoy for Tsvangirai at any time before the crash

Police spokesman Superintendent Andrew Phiri told The Herald the truck may have struck an object on the road before it veered. The Herald said the driver and occupants of the truck were taken to a police station, but it was not clear whether they had been arrested.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official spokesman was unavailable, said Saturday that the truck involved was transporting AIDS medicine donated by the U.S. government. It was driven by a Zimbabwean hired by the United States.

Associated Press reporters saw Tsvangirai leaving the hospital Saturday evening with a baseball cap pulled over his bandaged head. His spokesman, James Maridadi, said Tsvangirai was going home, where a steady stream of visitors were paying their respects. Some appeared to be preparing to spend the night on the lawn.

Dr. Douglas Gwatidzo, head of casualty at the hospital, said the prime minister had head injuries and chest pains and was expressing sorrow over his wife's death.

Makone said the couple's children were flying to Zimbabwe from Australia and South Africa and funeral arrangements were being made.

Tsvangirai, who turns 57 next week, formed his Movement for Democratic Change a decade ago. As it emerged as a serious political challenger, Tsvangirai repeatedly faced the wrath of Mugabe's ZANU-PF. He has been beaten and was once nearly thrown from a 10th floor window by suspected government thugs.

He was sworn in Feb. 11 as Zimbabwe's prime minister in a power-sharing deal meant to end almost a year of deadly stalemate with Mugabe. The unity government was formed under pressure from neighboring governments who wanted Zimbabwean leaders to turn their attention to a growing humanitarian and economic crisis after years of rivalry between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest official inflation rate, a hunger crisis that has left most of its people dependent on foreign handouts and a cholera epidemic blamed on the collapse of a once-enviable health and sanitation system.

The Tsvangirais, who married in 1978 and had three daughters and three sons, often went together to political events, but Susan Tsvangirai did not have a prominent public role.

She once ran a sewing and catering businesses, according to an obituary issued by her husband's party. After her husband, a former labor union leader, went into politics, she turned her attention to women's and children's welfare issues, founding a trust that sponsored health, education and feeding projects.

Britain and the United States, both supporters of Tsvangirai, sent condolences. South Africa, which played a key role in negotiating a power-sharing deal that made Tsvangirai prime minister, also expressed condolences.

Mugabe spent about an hour at the hospital late Friday. He and other senior aides who also visited did not speak to reporters or Tsvangirai supporters gathered outside.