ZIMBABWE’S opposition leader called on his supporters yesterday to challenge President Robert Mugabe’s rule in next week’s run-off election despite a “wave of brutality” he says the government has unleashed.
Even as Morgan Tsvangirai urged Zimbabweans to have the courage to vote in the face of a violent crackdown, a judge ordered the No 2 opposition leader be held on treason and other charges until after the election.
“The wave of brutality being inflicted upon our people is reminiscent of the worst days of [white rule],” Tsvangirai said in an e-mail, one of the few ways he has of reaching voters.
The opposition leader’s attempts to tour the country have regularly been stymied by police at road blocks, and the state-controlled media all but ignore him.
In a statement adopted yesterday, EU leaders threatened authorities in Zimbabwe with more sanctions.
The document, which came at the end of their two-day summit, did not specify what the additional measures would be, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it could include more targeted sanctions against members of Mugabe’s government.
“Mugabe’s increasingly desperate and isolated regime has unleashed still more violence,” Brown said. “This is a brazen and obscene abuse of power by a criminal cabal.”
EU nations already have in place an arms embargo against Zimbabwe, in addition to a suspension of development aid and an assets freeze and travel ban against Mugabe and 125 other top government officials.
Independent human rights activists have accused Mugabe of deploying police, soldiers and party militants to attack the opposition.
The opposition says more than 70 of its activists alone have been killed, and the international community has become so concerned at the violence that some leaders have suggested the run-off be cancelled.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change says the treason case against its secretary general, Tendai Biti, is also part of a government plot to undermine it before the election. After hearing two days of arguments from prosecutors and defence lawyers, Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe ruled yesterday that there were grounds to believe Biti had committed an offence and ordered him held until another hearing set for July 7.
Biti was formally charged on Thursday with treason (which can carry the death penalty), publishing false statements, insulting the president and another charge related to interfering with the military — police said Biti had spoken to generals about which military figures should step down if his party were to come to power.
The charge of making false statements was based on Biti’s announcement, before official results were released, that Tsvangirai won the first round of presidential voting on March 29. Under the law, only electoral officials can release results, but the government delayed announcing the results for more than five weeks.
In a call to supporters ahead of the June 27 election Tsvangirai said: “Help us to remind our people that they are winners. That their courageous decision on 29 March was not in vain.
“Help us encourage them to vote again for change on 27 June. Help us to protect them from the regime’s attempt to destroy their hope.
“On 27 June, let’s finish it!”
Mugabe has been accused of ruining the economy. The economic slide has been blamed on the collapse of the key agriculture sector after often-violent seizures of farmland from whites.
Mugabe claimed he ordered the seizures, from 2002, to benefit poor blacks. But many of the farms instead went to his loyalists.
Sanctions were first imposed on Mugabe’s regime in 2002 to protest human rights violations and Mugabe’s dictatorial rule.
However, they have been criticised as ineffectual, particularly since Mugabe has been allowed to travel to Europe to attend international conferences, most recently a UN food summit in Rome this month.
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