Mugabe Threatens Opposition Arrests

Angus Shaw, AP, June 17, 2008

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

Mugabe on Monday accused Morgan Tsvangirai and other leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change of condoning “arson and violence across the country,” state radio reported. Mugabe called the violence systematic, showing that 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.

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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.

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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.

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In South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said the former president’s organization joins 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 also have signed the call.

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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, 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.

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

Mugabe, president 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.

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