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Mugabe deploys war veterans ahead of vote

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party said on Wednesday it would deploy more war veterans to campaign in some opposition areas ahead of a presidential election run-off marred by violence.
Image: Campaign posters
People walk past an electricity substation plastered with campaign posters of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.Desmond Kwande / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party said on Wednesday it would deploy more war veterans to campaign in some opposition areas ahead of a presidential election run-off marred by violence.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai accuses ZANU-PF of widespread attacks on his supporters ahead of the June 27 vote, but says he is still confident of victory after beating Mugabe in the first round.

ZANU-PF officials in the southern Masvingo province, where the ruling party lost several parliamentary seats in rural districts traditionally considered safe, told Zimbabwe state television they had stepped up their campaign against "troublesome spots where MDC structures had taken root."

"We are setting up units of war veterans to go to those areas to fan out the MDC, to campaign for President Mugabe, to confront and talk to some company managers who are openly supporting these MDC structures," said retired Major Alex Mudavanhu, ZANU-PF chairman for Masvingo.

"We are going to tell people that ZANU-PF is not going to lose this election," he said.

Mugabe's guerrilla fighters from the 1970s independence war and ruling party youth brigades are regularly deployed as political shock troops against the opposition and have recently been threatening another bush war if Mugabe loses.

Mugabe's support has been eroded by the economic collapse of the once prosperous country, which he has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. On Wednesday, Mugabe's government announced tax cuts for the low paid.

Tsvangirai says Zimbabweans cannot afford Mugabe's rule any further. He accused ZANU-PF activists on Tuesday of killing 66 opposition supporters to try to intimidate voters ahead of the run-off.

Dispute over satellites
On Wednesday, the MDC said the government had launched a campaign forcing Zimbabweans to pull down home satellite dishes through which they have been able to receive foreign television stations that have carried reports critical of Harare.

The MDC says Zimbabwe's sole television station, run by state broadcaster ZBC, is biased in favor of the ruling party.

"The regime is determined to cut off Zimbabweans from the rest of the world by ensuring that they are unable to receive news from outside Zimbabwe about what is happening in their own country," the opposition said in a statement.

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu rejected the charge.

"What I heard was that a lunatic war veteran was going around telling people to remove their satellite dishes and we stopped him because the government is committed to free flow of information," Ndlovu told Reuters.

Mugabe's party denies waging war on its foes and says "MDC thugs" have killed a number of ZANU-PF activists, including war veterans.

Economic ruin
Zimbabweans hope the run-off will start recovery from economic ruin that has brought 165,000 percent inflation, 80 percent unemployment, chronic food and fuel shortages and has sent millions fleeing to neighboring countries.

Mugabe, 84, says ZANU-PF cannot lose power to an opposition backed by "white imperialists." He says Western countries want to oust him over his seizure of white-owned farms to give to landless blacks. Critics say that policy helped lead to ruin.

Mugabe's government says the economy has been sabotaged by Western countries, which have imposed limited sanctions.

An EU-U.S. summit in Slovenia on Tuesday called on the Zimbabwe government to end what it called state-sponsored violence and urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send monitors to deter further violence.