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By Nelson Banya
HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwe court detained a senior official in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party on Wednesday and ruled that he should stand trial on terrorism charges.
Roy Bennett, one of the few senior white Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials, is accused of illegally possessing arms for purposes of committing acts of terrorism and banditry.
The move is likely to renew tensions between Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe, old foes who set up a power-sharing government in February after disputed elections in 2008.
"I commit the accused person to prison. If there is any defect in the process, the accused should raise it before the High Court," magistrate Lucia Mungwari said.
The MDC accuses Mugabe's ZANU-PF of coming up with politically motivated charges against its members and several of its lawmakers have been arrested.
Tsvangirai has said such detentions could threaten the power-sharing government.
"The MDC regards today's indictment and subsequent detention of Treasurer-General and deputy agriculture minister designate Roy Bennett as yet another serious attack on the credibility of the inclusive government," the MDC said in a statement.
The UK government said it was "seriously concerned" about the charges, but said it would continue to help the unity government with economic and political reform.
"The treatment of Roy Bennett, an MDC-T nominee as Minister in the Government, contravenes the spirit as well as the letter of the Global Political Agreement," a UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
"The parties need to implement the commitments they have made and restore internationally accepted human rights standards in Zimbabwe."
A subdued Bennett, the MDC Treasurer, had told Reuters after he was indicted earlier on Wednesday that he had little hope of avoiding jail.
"I am very apprehensive. I don't have faith in the justice system," said the former white commercial farmer, whose property was seized by Mugabe's previous administration under a land reform programme.
Under Zimbabwean law, a person indicted for trial is automatically taken into custody and has to apply for fresh bail, which Bennett is expected to do within days. Zimbabwe's highest court freed Bennett earlier this year after he spent a month in custody.
Analysts said while the prosecutors were following procedure, a compromise could have been reached.
"That is what the law requires, so on that basis you cannot blame the prosecutors. But given that the MDC will naturally see this as persecution, the situation could have been handled better," said Eldred Masunungure, a leading political analyst.
"There could have been an agreement for Bennett to immediately apply for bail at the High Court and prosecutors would not oppose to make sure he is not detained."
Bennett, who showed up in court wearing a checked shirt and khaki trousers and looking tense, was whisked away by prison guards immediately after the ruling.
Tsvangirai has nominated Bennett to become deputy agriculture minister but Mugabe -- 85 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980 -- has refused to swear him in unless is he is acquitted of the charges.
(Additional reporting by Mike Saburi in Mutare; editing by Philippa Fletcher)