HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police loyal to President Robert Mugabe raided a house used by the prime minister's supporters Saturday and accused them of hoarding weapons in a move that is likely to push Zimbabwe's fragile coalition government closer to collapse.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said Saturday the police raid on a house where the party's executives stay was provocation by Mugabe's party who wants the coalition to fail.
Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai, the country's longtime opposition leader, in February after disputed elections last year. Tsvangirai withdrew temporarily from the coalition government on Oct. 16.
Mugabe, 85, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and many fear he will hang on to power at all costs.
Finance Minister and MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said about 50 armed police "ransacked" a house used by party executives in Harare on Friday night.
He said a guard, Moffat Nyandure, and his wife were assaulted. Police told Nyandure to dig in the yard around the house in search of weapons, he said. Nyandure was made to dig with his bare hands for five hours.
A room occupied by a party official, who was at the house at the time of the raid, was searched and "valuable party documents" were taken, Biti said. Police "claimed" they had a search warrant, he said.
The house is used by MDC executives who visit from outside of the capital.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena had no immediate comment.
"They are behind this attack," Biti said, referring to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. "Our decision of pulling out of the inclusive government infuriated ZANU-PF and this is the price we now pay for that decision."
Tsvangirai's boycott has been a setback for the country's struggle to emerge from political gridlock, economic collapse, and international isolation and sanctions.
Both parties have said they are committed to the coalition but it has been strained by disagreements that have paralyzed the country.
Tsvangirai has condemned unilateral moves by Mugabe to fill government posts, continuing human rights violations and attacks on activists by ZANU-PF militants and security forces.
The only positive sign for unity and democratic reform in Zimbabwe came weeks ago when the Supreme Court released nine activists and dropped terror charges against them because they had been tortured and beaten in jail.
But the catalyst for Tsvangirai's withdrawal was the prosecution of Roy Bennett, a popular party member nominated as deputy agriculture minister.
Prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to send Bennett back to jail to await trial on charges linked to discredited allegations that he had plotted the violent overthrow of Mugabe.
Biti said the MDC was adamant it would not return to the coalition until there was movement from Mugabe's party.
"These acts of harassment are an attempt to intimidate us but we will not be intimidated and our disengagement will not be reversed until outstanding issues are resolved," Biti told reporters Saturday.
Tsvangirai is looking to regional leaders to help resolve the stalemate. This week he met with the leaders of neighboring countries and a team of southern African ministers will also visit the country Thursday.
However, Mugabe and his party have treated Tsvangirai's boycott with contemptuous indifference.
In his first comments on the issue Friday, Mugabe called the split a "non-event" and said his party would not change its course.
"No amount of pressure will make ZANU-PF yield to any one of their demands," he told state television on his return from a summit of African leaders in Uganda.
"What the MDC wants is to have complete executive authority and that we cannot allow," Mugabe said.
Mugabe has demanded that Tsvangirai do more to get international sanctions lifted and foreign aid and investment restored. He claims the sanctions have been illegally imposed by Western nations and have contributed to the country's economic decline.
However, sanctions such as those imposed by the European Union are largely targeted against Mugabe and his cronies whose assets have been frozen and travel restricted.
Critics blame Mugabe for Zimbabwe's economic meltdown which began after he ordered the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy in the former regional breadbasket.