Jun 20, 2008
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Tsvangirai mulls abandoning run-off

Jun 20, 2008

By Cris Chinaka

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is considering whether to pull out of the June 27 presidential run-off election, fearing it will be a charade, a spokesman said on Friday.

A growing number of African nations, the United States and former colonial power Britain have said they do not believe the poll would be free and fair because of violence that the opposition blames on veteran President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says at least 70 of its supporters have been killed since he defeated Mugabe in a March 29 vote but fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off, according to official figures.

"There is a huge avalanche of calls and pressure from supporters across the country, especially in the rural areas, not to accept to be participants in this charade," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters.

Chamisa said the MDC would decide on Monday whether to contest the poll, with divisions among party officials on whether to consider dropping out.

Mugabe, 84, is fighting to cling to power in the country he has ruled since independence in 1980. Once prosperous, its economy is now ruined and millions of Zimbabweans have fled the political and economic crisis to neighbouring states.

In Bulawayo, Mugabe said: "The British and Americans want to play God. They have given themselves a role which is not their own, of installing and deposing governments. They want to do the same here but we say to them they are not God."

Speaking in Shona, he added: "We pray to the same God that they pray to ... and he is the one who can remove people".

Police chief Augustine Chihuri said 390 opposition supporters and 156 members of the ruling ZANU-PF party had been arrested over violence since the first round of voting.

"It is without doubt that between the two political parties ... the MDC is the main culprit," Chihuri said.

Tsvangirai has been detained five times while campaigning.

A magistrate on Friday rejected the MDC's bid to win the release of its secretary-general, Tendai Biti, held on treason charges that could carry the death penalty. He was ordered to remain behind bars until July 7, although the High Court is due to hear an application for bail on Tuesday.


European Union leaders issued a new threat of further sanctions on Zimbabwe over the election violence. The EU has an arms embargo on Zimbabwe as well as visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and other officials.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I think we have to remind President Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime that the eyes of the world are on what is happening in that country."

But Dimitrij Rupel, the foreign minister of EU presidency holder Slovenia, conceded the bloc could do little.

Observers from Western countries have been barred. The 14-nation Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is sending 380 monitors to Zimbabwe for the vote.

Mugabe's government responded by accusing Brown of trying to bribe African leaders to condemn the election because of fears Tsvangirai would lose the vote.

"True to fashion, prime minister Gordon Brown is going back to the old habit of divide and rule," Science and Technology Minister Olivia Muchena, one of Mugabe's campaign co-ordinators, said on state television.

"We note with concern the attempt to bribe and coerce African leaders to speak against the results of the presidential run-off before they are even held on the 27th of June."

SADC ministers responsible for peace and security said on Thursday they doubted the election would be free, signalling growing impatience on the continent with Mugabe.

State media said Mugabe had told a campaign rally he planned to stay in power until he was sure his programmes of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks was irreversible.

"Once I am sure this legacy is truly in your hands, people are empowered ... then I can say: Aha, the work is now done," the Herald quoted Mugabe as saying. He brands his opponents as stooges of the West.

Mugabe's critics say the farm seizures have helped wreck the economy. He blames Western sanctions. Inflation is over 165,000 percent, unemployment stands at 80 percent and Zimbabweans suffer shortages of food and fuel.

Zimbabwe's neighbours fear the consequences of total meltdown there and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said it was talking to them on contingency plans in case a large number of Zimbabweans are forced to flee.

Despite the political crisis, London-listed investment group LonZim said it remained bullish on prospects and that it planned to raise a further $60-100 million through a share sale to buy assets in Zimbabwe.

"Our focus is to position ourselves for economic recovery," Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey White told Reuters. "We believe it is the right time."

(Additional reporting by Nelson Banya in Harare, Ingrid Melander in Brussels, Peter Apps in London; Muchena Zigomo and Paul Simao in Johannesburg; Editing by Gordon Bell and Stephen Weeks)

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