The US ambassador to Zimbabwe has accused President Robert Mugabe’s regime of using food as a weapon to stay in power, while the opposition has said its rallies have been banned indefinitely, three weeks before the presidential run-off.
US ambassador James McGee said the regime is distributing food mostly to its supporters, and that opposition supporters are offered food only if they hand in identification that would allow them to vote.
If the situation continues, “massive, massive starvation” will result, McGee told reporters.
Aid groups in Zimbabwe were ordered to halt operations on Thursday, leaving impoverished Zimbabweans dependent on the government and Mugabe’s party.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said that police had banned the party’s rallies out of concern for the safety of Tsvangirai and other party leaders. The open-ended ban only affects the opposition.
Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe called the justification nonsense, and said the ban was “a clear indication that the regime will do everything necessary to remain in power.”
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the March 29 election, but did not garner the 50% plus one vote necessary to avoid a run-off, which is scheduled for June 27.
Tsvangirai had been trying to campaign around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. He was stopped at two roadblocks, and the second time was ordered to a police station about 50 kilometres from Bulawayo.
On Wednesday, Tsvangirai said he was detained for nine hours at another police station near Bulawayo.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena denied police were interfering with the opposition campaign.
Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant US Secretary of State for African affairs, appealed to South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki to put pressure on Mugabe “not to starve the population and to allow international organisations to function“.
“It’s unbelievable that the [Zimbabwe] government will actually kick out the organisations which are providing services to the people,” Frazer said of the suspension of aid.
James Elder, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency, said the suspension was “completely unacceptable and hugely concerning. Hundreds of thousands of children are in need of immediate assistance.”
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