Zimbabwe: Crackdown hits new intensity
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||23 June 2008|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Zimbabwe: Crackdown hits new intensity, 23 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/486261221e.html [accessed 20 December 2014]|
HARARE, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) - Despite furious international criticism of political conditions in Zimbabwe ahead of this week's presidential poll, riot police on Monday picked up around 60 people - mostly women and children - sheltering at the headquarters of the opposition party in the capital, Harare.
"The women and children were victims of political violence, who had fled their homes in rural areas and were at our head office seeking either legal or medical attention," said Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Meanwhile Zimbabwean civil society has backed an MDC decision to pull out of the presidential run-off on 27 June, saying it would save lives. According to the MDC, more than 86 of its supporters have been killed by ruling party militia since the first round elections in March.
While announcing his decision to withdraw from the poll, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a press briefing in Harare on Sunday that he was willing to negotiate on a government of national unity, if it is seriously proposed.
Tsvangirai has since sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare, but has not applied for asylum.
Levy Mwanawasa, Zambian president and the chair of the South African Development Community (SADC) on Sunday also called for the postponement of the presidential run-off on the grounds that conditions did not exist for a free and fair ballot.
Tsvangirai's press briefing came hours after the MDC were prevented from holding a public rally in Harare on Sunday by the police and militants of the ruling ZANU-PF. The MDC's decision to pullout has been interpreted by some analysts as an attempt to persuade SADC, the African Union or the United Nations to intervene decisively in the crisis.
"I really hope that most leaders will agree with me that the situation in Zimbabwe does not allow for free and fair elections, and if allowed to go ahead, the outcome of such an election will be an embarrassment to the region and the continent as a whole," Mwanawasa told a press briefing in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, on Sunday.
The African Union (AU) Commission chair Jean Ping, has also reportedly voiced his concern, and said he had started consultations with AU chairman Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, and with SADC to see what could be done.
Reuters reported that Angola's foreign ministry said on Monday that SADC foreign ministers were meeting in Luanda to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis and might issue a statement later in the day.
Mwanawasa, explaining his decision to call for a poll postponement, said over the past five days he had tried to contact all SADC leaders: "But unfortunately I have only managed to speak to not more than four ? there are supposed to be 14. Now I had an option to decide whether to leave smatters the way they are or exercise my discretion as chairman to do something which I consider to be right. I have decided to exercise the second option."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said he backed the SADC chair's call for an election delay.
Tsvangirai said the beating of MDC supporters on Sunday, in the presence of foreign election observers, had convinced the party of the futility of participating in the poll.
Patrick Chinamasa, the minister of justice, told IRIN that the government did not take Tsvangirai's threat seriously. "The law is very clear, if Tsvangirai wants to pull out of the presidential race, he should put that in writing and inform the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
"We are going ahead with our campaign where we will romp home to an emphatic victory on Friday. Tsvangirai is now afraid of a humiliating defeat, he is running scared."
Withdraw from parliament
Lovemore Madhuku, chair of the National Constitutional Assembly, an NGO lobbying for a "people-driven" constitution, said the MDC's decision to pull out "will save the lives of a lot of people but to complete the whole process the MDC should also withdraw from parliament because if they attend parliament they will be endorsing Mugabe's rule".
The MDC won the 29 March parliamentary poll, and Tsvangirai beat incumbent Robert Mugabe in the presidential election, but fell short of 50 percent of the vote plus one to secure an outright victory.
Macdonald Lewanika, spokesperson for the pro-democracy Crisis Coalition, said SADC needed to help create the framework for fair elections.
"Whether Mugabe declares himself winner without an election or goes ahead with the election without the MDC, he knows fully well that he is not legitimate, so Zimbabwe's problems will not end," Lewanika said.