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Mugabe threatens to arrest opposition leaders

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe threatened to arrest opposition leaders he accused of supporting mounting election violence, state radio reported Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Robert Mugabe threatened to arrest opposition leaders he accused of supporting mounting election violence, state radio reported Tuesday.

Mugabe, campaigning in the central Kadoma district Monday, accused Morgan Tsvangirai and other leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change of condoning "arson and violence across the country," state radio reported. He said the violence was systematic, showing it was organized by opposition leaders, the radio quoted him saying.

Independent human rights observers, though, say it is Mugabe's police, soldiers and party militants who have orchestrated widespread violence aimed at ensuring Mugabe wins a June 27 presidential runoff after coming in second to Tsvangirai in the first round in March. The independent observers have noted some retaliatory attacks, but say the opposition violence does not approach state-sponsored violence in scale or scope.

"If this doesn't stop, the person who is responsible is Tsvangirai," Mugabe said, adding that opposition leaders could be arrested, radio said.

Police have been holding Tsvangirai's party secretary general, Tendai Biti, since June 12, saying he will be charged with treason, which can carry the death penalty. The MDC said in a statement Tuesday that Biti was still waiting to be formally charged.

"The police made a lot of noise about their threats to arrest Mr. Biti which, in a normal society, would have presupposed they had basis for doing so," the party statement said. "Six days later, they still have not charged him, which vindicates our position that the charges are ludicrous, frivolous and vexatious, only intended to frustrate our campaign."

Mugabe, meanwhile, has campaigned freely at rallies given prominence by the dominant state newspapers and state television and radio, flying across the country in a presidential helicopter escorted by two military aircraft.

The independent Media Monitoring Project said in its latest bulletin that in a single week of campaigning, the country's sole broadcaster devoted 334 minutes to favorable coverage of Mugabe's party. In the few minutes devoted to Tsvangirai's party, "it was portrayed as inherently violent and determined to reverse the gains of independence," the monitors said.

Mugabe has even cracked down on independent aid agencies, accusing them of working with the opposition to topple him. A government-ordered freeze on aid work has put millions who depend on food aid at the mercy of the government's own distribution system.

Concerned neighbors
Zimbabwe's neighbors are showing increasing concern that the runoff will not be free or fair.

In South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said Tuesday that the former president's organization had joined leaders and groups across Africa calling "for an end to the violence and intimidation, and the restoration of full access for humanitarian and aid agencies." Retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan are among others who have signed the call.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation "would like to join all freedom-loving people who have added their voices to the growing worldwide call for true democracy (in Zimbabwe) and urge others to do the same," chief executive officer Achmat Dangor said in a statement.

Mugabe aide Emmerson Mnangagwa, speaking to reporters Tuesday in the Mozambican capital during what he called a routine visit, was asked Mugabe's comments while campaigning last weekend indicating he would not accept election defeat.

"The election will dictate" who governs, said Mnangagwa, Mugabe's feared former security minister and chief campaign official. "We are going to accept the outcome of the results."

Mnangagwa could be trying to reassure Zimbabwe's neighbors. But at home, Mugabe repeatedly has declared that he would never cede power to opponents he accuses of being puppets of former colonial power Britain and the United States.

The Herald, a state newspaper, on Monday quoted Mugabe as saying the nation threw off colonial domination with a guerrilla war in 1980, and his party is ready to fight again to stop the pro-Western opposition party from gaining control of the government.

"We shed a lot of blood for this country. We are not going to give up our country for a mere "x" on a ballot. How can a ball point pen fight with a gun?" Mugabe was quoted as saying last weekend.

Mugabe took up the same theme Monday, saying he would return the country to another "chimurenga," or war in the local Shona language, if voters give Tsvangirai a majority in the runoff, the Herald reported Tuesday.

At a news conference in Kenya on Tuesday, Zimbabwean rights activists said Mugabe's talk of war should be taken seriously.

‘Wage war on the people’
"Mugabe wants to win these elections at all cost. If not, his plan is to wage war on the people," said Gorden Moyo of rights group Bulawayo Agenda.

Others at the Nairobi news conference described a situation already akin to war.

"Extreme political violence is going on in Zimbabwe; there is murder, torture and the disappearance of opposition and civil society campaigners," said Takura Zhangazha, director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

Maureen Kademaunga of the independent Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe said: "This is genocide in slow motion going on in Zimbabwe."

Mugabe, Zimbabwe's head of government since independence in 1980, was lauded early in his rule for campaigning for racial reconciliation and building the economy. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining the economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.