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Zimbabwe activist pastor denied bail, faces two weeks in jail

HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean pastor at the heart of a protest movement against President Robert Mugabe was denied bail on Friday, leaving him facing at least two weeks in jail before his next hearing on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Evan Mawarire - whose #ThisFlag movement led the biggest anti-government rallies in a decade in 2016 - is also charged with inciting violence and insulting the national flag.

The preacher arrived at the magistrates court in handcuffs in an open police truck and sat calmly during the proceedings.

Magistrate Elisha Singano said facts presented by the state showed there was reasonable suspicion that Mawarire committed a crime and advised him to seek bail at the High Court.

"Thank you guys. Don't worry," Mawarire told a group of supporters and reporters as he headed towards a prison vehicle after the hearing. He has denied all the charges.

The #ThisFlag movement used social media messages to rally demonstrations against social and economic decay.

In one online video, Mawarire said the colors of Zimbabwe's flag - green, gold, red and black - symbolized how Mugabe's government had ruined the country - the basis of the charge of insulting the national standard.

The most serious offence against him, of "subverting a constitutional government", carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

The preacher was arrested on Wednesday on his return from self-imposed exile in the United States.

His lawyer Harrison Nkomo said he would apply for bail at the High Court on Monday.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, turns 93 years later this month. He was endorsed by his ruling ZANU-PF party last December to run in next year's presidential election, his last allowed under a constitution passed in 2013.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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