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Feb 17, 10:20 AM EST

Zimbabwe protest pastor says open to a political run


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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- A Zimbabwean pastor accused of subversion for protests against the government of President Robert Mugabe said Friday that he is open to the idea of running for office.

Evan Mawarire spoke outside a court in the capital, Harare, where his trial was postponed to March 16. He was detained for more than a week after returning this month from the United States and is out on bail.

"There is a lot of conversations around a pastor running for public office. I don't see any way where that is not allowed. I am first a citizen before I am a pastor," said Mawarire, who was arrested and released last year after launching a social media movement known as #ThisFlag.

He also organized protests in the United States after leaving Zimbabwe for what he said were safety concerns. He has been charged since his return with subverting a constitutionally elected government.

Mawarire has been repeatedly criticized by Mugabe, whose government has faced economic hardship and discontent among many Zimbabweans who say the 92-year-old leader has been in power too long. Mugabe, who became leader in 1980, turns 93 next week. The ruling ZANU-PF party plans to use the occasion to rally support with a big party on Feb. 25.

The pastor said he would continue his anti-government activism despite what he described as "persecution" by the state.

"It's my constitutional right to be involved with other citizens to express ourselves freely to challenge the government the way they should be challenged by their citizens," said Mawarire, who was described this month by a state prosecutor as a "terrorist."

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