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By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's opposition MDC said it would boycott the country's power-sharing government until sticking points have been resolved and a political deal is reached, sparking the biggest crisis since the administration was formed nine months ago.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday his Movement for Democratic Change would disengage from President Robert Mugabe's "dishonest and unreliable" ZANU-PF party in the country's unity cabinet set up in February.
"It is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner. In this regard, whilst being in government we shall forthwith disengage from ZANU-PF and in particular from cabinet and the council of ministers until such time as confidence and respect are restored amongst us," Tsvangirai told reporters.
A key test of the MDC's decision may come next month when Finance Minister Tendai Biti -- who is a senior MDC leader -- is due to present Zimbabwe's 2010 national budget.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF said the MDC's move would have to be considered seriously by the party.
"That is a matter that would require a collective response from all of us in the party. It needs some serious consideration. I wouldn't want to pre-empt the party's position," said Didymus Mutasa, a senior ZANU-PF official and Minister of State in Mugabe's office.
The MDC's decision could lead to a stalemate in the government, analysts said.
"It means that the issues that the government is meant to be dealing with are not being dealt with, attention is being diverted to other side issues and they've got a huge crisis on their hands," said Cheryl Hendricks, a senior research fellow at South Africa's Institute for Security studies.
The fresh crisis in Zimbabwe comes after a court this week ordered the detention of Roy Bennett, a senior MDC official, and ruled that he should stand trial on terrorism charges.
Bennett said he had been released from prison detention late on Friday in the eastern city of Mutare after a High Court granted an application by his lawyers that he be released on bail. He is charged with illegally possessing arms for purposes of committing acts of terrorism which carries a maximum death sentence. Bennett denies the charge.
Tsvangirai said the detention of Bennett showed that Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party regarded the MDC as a junior partner and that the power-sharing administration would collapse if the president continued his unilateral rule.
"The ... detention of our party treasurer Roy Bennett has brought home the fiction of the credibility and integrity of the transitional government. It has brought home the self-evident fact that ZANU-PF see us as a junior, fickle and unserious movement," Tsvangirai said.
Analysts said the MDC's decision may not mean the end of the power-sharing government but it will put pressure on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body under whose auspices former South African President Thabo Mbeki brokered a settlement in Zimbabwe last year.
"I do not think that this will lead to the collapse of the unity government. It is a difficult moment for the (government of national unity) GNU but if SADC has any conscience still left it should move swiftly to salvage what is left of the unity government," said Eldred Masunungure, a leading political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer.
Tsvangirai said if the new constitutional crisis escalated further, it would only be resolved by holding fresh elections under supervision of the United Nations and SADC.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Banya in Harare; Phakamisa Ndzamela and Stella Mapenzauswa in Johannesburg)