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Crisis In Zimbabwe: Crackdown Hits New Intensity

Zimbabwe: Crackdown Hits New Intensity

Harare, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) - Despite furious international criticism of political conditions in Zimbabwe ahead of this week's presidential poll, riot police on Monday picked up around 60 people - mostly women and children - sheltering at the headquarters of the opposition party in the capital, Harare.

"The women and children were victims of political violence, who had fled their homes in rural areas and were at our head office seeking either legal or medical attention," said Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Meanwhile Zimbabwean civil society has backed an MDC decision to pull out of the presidential run-off on 27 June, saying it would save lives. According to the MDC, more than 86 of its supporters have been killed by ruling party militia since the first round elections in March.

While announcing his decision to withdraw from the poll, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a press briefing in Harare on Sunday that he was willing to negotiate on a government of national unity, if it is put forward.

Levy Mwanawasa, Zambian president and the chair of the South African Development Community (SADC) on Sunday also called for the postponement of the run-off on the grounds that conditions did not exist for a free and fair ballot.

Tsvangirai's press briefing came hours after the MDC were prevented from holding a public rally in Harare on Sunday by the police and ZANU-PF militants. The MDC's decision to pullout has been interpreted as an attempt to get the regional organization SADC, the African Union or the United Nations to decisively intervene in the crisis.

Embarrassment

"I really hope that most leaders will agree with me that the situation in Zimbabwe does not allow for free and fair elections, and if allowed to go ahead, the outcome of such an election will be an embarrassment to the region and the continent as a whole," Mwanawasa told a press briefing in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, on Sunday.

The African Union Commission chair Jean Ping, has also reportedly voiced his concern, and said he had started consultations with AU chairman Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, and with SADC to see what could be done.

Reuters reports that Angola's foreign ministry said on Monday that SADC foreign ministers were meeting in Luanda to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis and might issue a statement later in the day.

Mwanawasa, explaining his decision to call for a poll postponement, said over the past five days he had tried to contact all SADC leaders: "But unfortunately I have only managed to speak to not more than four - there are supposed to be 14. Now I had an option to decide whether to leave smatters the way they are or exercise my discretion as chairman to do something which I consider to be right. I have decided to exercise the second option."

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on Monday said he backed the SADC chair's call for a postponement.

Tsvangirai said the police and ZANU-PF militia's beating of supporters on Sunday, in the presence of foreign election observers, had convinced the MDC of the futility of participating in the poll.

MDC insiders told IRIN that while there was a possibility that Tsvangirai's threats to pull out were real, it could also be an attempt to engage in brinkmanship.

Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs told IRIN that they did not take Tsvangirai's statements seriously. "The law is very clear, if Tsvangirai wants to pull out of the presidential race, he should put that in writing and inform the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

"We are going ahead with our campaign where we will romp home to an emphatic victory on Friday. Tsvangirai is now afraid of a humiliating defeat, he is running scared."

Withdraw from parliament

Lovemore Madhuku, chair of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an NGO lobbying for a new, people-driven constitution said the MDC's decision to pull out "will save the lives of a lot of people but to complete the whole process the MDC should also withdraw from parliament because if they attend parliament they will be endorsing Mugabe's rule".

The MDC won the 29 March parliamentary poll, and Tsvangirai beat incumbent Robert Mugabe in the presidential election, but fell short of 50 percent of the vote plus one to secure an outright victory.

Macdonald Lewanika, spokesperson for the pro-democracy Crisis Coalition, said SADC needed to help create the framework for fair elections.

"Whether Mugabe declares himself winner without an election or goes ahead with the election without the MDC, he knows fully well that he is not legitimate, so Zimbabwe's problems will not end," Lewanika said.

Mwanawasa explaining his decision to call for a postponement said over the past five days he had tried to contact all the SADC leaders: "But unfortunately I have only managed to speak to not more than four - there are supposed to be 14. Now I had an option to decide whether to leave smatters the way they are or exercise my discretion as chairman to do something which I consider to be right. I have decided to exercise the second option."

He said SADC was debating imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe. "I think let's not cross the bridge before we reach the river."

MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa told IRIN that thousands of party supporters had been traumatised by "state sponsored violence", which had seen over 200,000 people being internally displaced and over 20,000 homes destroyed by "ZANU-PF supporters and the military". He claimed that "over 10,000 people have been injured and maimed in this orgy of violence."

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Copyright © IRIN 2008

ENDS

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