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Zimbabwe releases 200 opposition supporters

About 200 opposition supporters arrested in Zimbabwe late last week in a post-election government crackdown were released on Tuesday, their lawyer said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police on Tuesday released nearly 200 people who were arrested last week in a raid at opposition headquarters, while President Bush called on Zimbabwe's neighbors to step up the pressure on longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

Many of the 215 people arrested on Friday had fled to Harare to escape mounting violence and intimidation in rural areas that used to be ruling party strongholds but turned against Mugabe in the March 29 elections.

Twenty-nine people, mainly women and children, were released almost immediately. The rest were freed from various police stations in the capital Tuesday in accordance with a High Court order issued Monday, opposition defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said.

One month after the vote, results from the presidential election still have not been released.

Independent observers say that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe, but did not secure an outright majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai insists he did, while Mugabe has stayed silent.

Bush urges neighbors to act
Bush said at a news conference Tuesday that "it's really incumbent on the nations in the neighborhood to step up and lead." He stopped short of saying that Mugabe had lost the election, but added that it was clear that the country had voted for change.

However, Tendai Biti, the second-in-command in Tsvangirai's opposition party, said Tuesday he hoped the United Nations would send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to assess the situation and help solve the crisis.

"It is unacceptable, the abuse of human rights, the killings that are going on at the present moment," Biti, secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, said in an interview with Associated Press Television News. "It is unacceptable, the use of food as a weapon and the deliberate starvation of our people. And again it is unacceptable, the deliberate assault on democracy that is taking place in Zimbabwe.

"Those are clearly not regional and sub-regional issues. Those are U.N. issues, and the (U.N.) Charter is very clear on that."

On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission concluded the recount of 23 disputed parliamentary seats, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. The commission would thereafter "invite presidential candidates or their election agents for the verification and collation of the results," the Herald said Tuesday.

State radio reported that the verification process would take at least three more days.

Despite fears of vote-rigging during the parliamentary recount, the published results confirmed that the opposition held a majority of seats for the first time in Zimbabwe's history.

'Old man, go'
Tsvangirai addressed a joint news conference Monday with Arthur Mutambara, the head of a breakaway faction, to say they had healed their divisions and were now united against Mugabe.

"Old man, go and have an honorable exit," Tsvangirai said in a message to the 84-year-old autocrat who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

"In a parliamentary democracy, the majority rule," Tsvangirai said alongside Mutambara at the news conference. "He should concede that ... he cannot be president."

Human Rights Watch said the ruling party, police and army have "sharply intensified a brutal campaign of organized terror and torture against perceived opposition supporters that threatens the general population."

But the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, accused the opposition of fomenting violence. It said that some Tsvangirai supporters "attacked soldiers and the general public" in Manicaland province. It said one person had been killed and two injured.

It said police suspected that perpetrators of the violence were being given refuge at opposition headquarters.

Wider arms embargo sought
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers put pressure on China, African nations and others on Tuesday to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe to in an effort prevent Mugabe's regime from clamping down further on dissenters.

The 27 EU ministers also urged Zimbabwe's African neighbors to do more to get Mugabe to release the election results.

They appealed to Beijing and others to follow the EU's lead "to exercise similar restraint ... by introducing a de facto moratorium" banning the supply or sale of arms and related equipment that could be used for internal repression in Zimbabwe.

Britain's Europe Minister Jim Murphy told reporters the EU was keen to get agreement at the United Nations and in other organizations to ensure no weapons make it to Zimbabwe.

"It's about making sure there is an international effort to stop arms going to Zimbabwe, until such time the situation has been resolved and democracy is allowed to run its course," Murphy said. "There should be a government that the people voted for, so the election results should be released and those who won those elections should be put in office."

European Union nations already have in place an arms embargo against Zimbabwe, in addition to other sanctions, including an assets freeze and travel ban against Mugabe and 125 other top government officials.

The sanctions first were imposed in 2002 to protest human rights violations in Zimbabwe and Mugabe's dictatorial rule.