IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Zimbabwe opposition leader fears new violence

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, addresses a press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday.Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP
/ Source: news services

Zimbabwe's opposition leader fears that President Robert Mugabe is preparing a "war against the people" in his bid to hold on to power.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a news conference Saturday that his party was reluctant to take part in an election runoff because of the growing risks of violence.

He said there is no need for such a runoff because he won presidential elections last Saturday.

The opposition will mount a new bid in the High Court on Sunday for the election results to be published. Armed police prevented lawyers from entering the court Saturday to force the release of presidential election results.

A Reuters correspondent on the scene said three police officers blocked Alec Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni from entering the High Court building.

"We can't go in. They are threatening to shoot. They are saying no one enters the court," Muchadehama told reporters.

A Reuters journalist said the police appeared to have come from the president's offices opposite the High Court where they were on guard duty. More officers then arrived.

They were later allowed into the building but the court postponed the case after the electoral commission asked for more time to prepare its response.

Senate results
Also on Saturday, electoral officials said that ruling party ZANU-PF took 30 seats in elections for the country's senate, or upper house of parliament, with the combined opposition taking the same number.

Although all contested seats have now been declared, control of the senate will depend on who becomes Zimbabwe's president. The new president and tribal chiefs will appoint the remaining seats. There are a total of 93.

The opposition believes a long delay in issuing results of the presidential contest from the election a week ago masks attempts by Mugabe to buy time for a fight-back.

His ruling ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament in the election for the first time in his 28-year rule.

Independent projections show the MDC candidate, Tsvangirai, won most of the votes cast in the election but not enough needed for an outright victory over Mugabe.

The ruling ZANU-PF party announced Friday it was endorsing Mugabe in a runoff election.

Signs of crackdown

Chamisa said there were signs that Mugabe, 84, was preparing to use violence to keep his hold on power. He pointed to a march in Harare by war veterans loyal to Mugabe who have beat up opponents in the past; a raid on opposition party offices; and the detention of foreign journalists by armed police in full riot gear.

"They are trying to intimidate people, they are trying to set up the context for unleashing violence. The vampire instincts of this regime are definitely going to come out," Chamisa charged.

Zimbabwe needs the assistance of the international community, he said.

"The U.N. has to make sure that there is no violence in this country. ... They should not (wait to) come when there is blood in the street, blood in the villages."

80 per cent unemployment
Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. His popularity has been battered by an economic slide that followed the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms since 2000. A third of the population have fled the country, 80 percent of those who remain are jobless and inflation is more than 100,000 percent.

The U.S. and other Western nations also have been pressing for the presidential results to be announced.

The law requires a runoff within 21 days of the first elections. But diplomats in Harare and at the United Nations said Mugabe was planning to declare a 90-day delay to give security forces time to clamp down.

An African Union election observer team found no evidence of fraud during voting last weekend, according to the delegation's leader, former Sierra Leone president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

On Friday, police escorted about 400 war veterans as they paraded silently through downtown Harare. The feared veterans of the bush war that helped end white minority rule are used to intimidate opposition supporters and spearheaded the often-violent takeover of white farms in recent years.

The hardening of the ruling party's position has punctured the guarded optimism that had emerged among the opposition and Mugabe's critics in the West, who hoped he would concede defeat.

'Hand of peace'
The MDC said in advertisements placed in South African newspapers on Saturday that it wanted peace.

"At this stage we offer the hand of peace to the current regime, and will recognize and respect their rights if the transition is expedited without further ado, but this offer will not remain open indefinitely," the MDC said.

New York Times journalist Barry Bearak was among those detained Thursday by heavily armed riot police who surrounded and entered a Harare hotel frequented by foreign reporters, lawyers said. The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said one of its staff, American Dileepan Sivapathasundaram, was detained at Harare's airport as he tried to leave the country Thursday.

Western observers barred
The government had rejected most foreign journalists' applications to cover the elections and had barred Western election observers.

Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said the attorney general decided there was no case against the two Americans and a third person who was not identified. However, police decided to hold them. It was not clear whether new charges would be filed.

State Department Tom Casey said four Americans were detained Thursday, but two had been released and were leaving the country. He said one of the two still in custody was a reporter and had been seen by U.S. officials. The other had not been located by U.S. officials, he said.