Violence in Zimbabwe escalates as 12 killed

ZIMBABWE’S opposition party (opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is pictured) said yesterday it was facing escalating violence as 12 tortured bodies were discovered across the country and it tries to campaign in the last days before a presidential run-off, pitting its leader against long-time President Robert Mugabe.

In recent weeks, party activists have been burned alive or have turned up dead after being spirited away in trucks, the Movement for Democratic Change said.

Rallies have been banned and police blocked campaign stops.

The MDC’s number two official, Tendai Biti, was brought back to court for a hearing a week after he was arrested.

Police accused him of treason and publishing false statements, among other offences.

“It’s all part of harassment,” opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai told reporters.

The violence, restrictions on opposition campaigning and the arrest of a top opposition leader have raised concerns that the June 27 elections will not be free and fair, leading some in the region to wonder whether the vote should be scrapped in favour of a power-sharing arrangement.

Tsvangirai’s party says more than 60 of its activists have been killed in recent weeks.

Independent human rights activists have implicated police, soldiers and Mugabe party militants in the violence.

Amnesty International said yesterday that 12 bodies had been found across the country and most showed signs of torture.

One of the worst single attacks came on Wednesday, when the opposition said four activists were abducted in Chitungwiza, about 24 kilometres south of the capital, and assaulted with iron bars, clubs and guns.

The victims were forced onto trucks and taken away by militias chanting slogans of Mugabe’s party, witnesses said. The bodies were found early yesterday, opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

Doctors at the main Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare said they admitted victims injured in assaults in several townships on the outskirts of Harare.

Among those killed in the violence was the wife of opposition mayor-elect of Harare, said family friends, who did not want to be identified for fear of repercussions.

Mugabe has denied being responsible for the violence — but threatened to return the country to war if he does not win the run-off.

South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks with Tsvangirai and Mugabe in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, but cancelled a news conference in South Africa at the last moment yesterday “due to unforeseen circumstances”.

South African media reported Mbeki was trying to persuade the two men to call off the run-off and form a government of national unity.

The sticking point appears to be that Tsvangirai refuses to share power with Mugabe, while Mugabe insists on leading any coalition government. The opposition claims Tsvangirai won outright, but according to official results, he came first but not with the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a run-off.


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