AFTER STRIKING a power-sharing agreement with the opposition earlier this year, Zimbabwe's 85-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his thuggish cronies made a clumsy attempt this week to get around it. Mugabe's intent became obvious on Tuesday, when a judge revoked bail and ordered the re-arrest of 18 human rights and opposition activists who are facing trial on patently bogus charges of seeking to overthrow Mugabe and his kleptocratic colleagues.
But there is reason to hope that Mugabe has become too dependent on international aid to risk sabotaging the power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change leader who is now prime minister.
Zimbabwe is asking for $8.5 billion in aid to revive the economy that Mugabe wrecked, but Western donors have wisely conditioned any such assistance on the release of all political prisoners.
After a meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, bail was reinstated on the activists and 15 of the 18 were released. Western aid gives Tsvangirai leverage over Mugabe. Even though Mugabe's cronies are desperate to stay in power, they are even more desperate for foreign cash.
Human-rights groups such as Amnesty International acted as conscience of the international community when the revocation of bail was first announced. Amnesty condemned the regime's repeated resort to "political trials" and human rights violations against its political opponents. Equally forthright was the South African Municipal Workers Union, which implored the South African government to "condemn this chronic abuse of state power."
South Africa as well as other democracies should be no less forceful in demanding that Mugabe relinquish power peacefully.