Activists 'murdered by Mugabe's mobs'

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The Independent Online

The reign of terror against Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has claimed two more lives.

Activists in Shamva, 80 km north-east of Harare, were attacked by an axe-wielding mob, and another organiser for the party was killed in Harare, opposition officials said yesterday.

The party's leader Morgan Tsvangirai claimed both were killed by supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party. In the Shamva attack, the MDC says the man had been asked by a group of men to produce a Zanu membership card.

"When he could not produce one he was whipped and clubbed to death," said the Shamva MDC organiser Moses Kufandiko. Another MDC leader, David Nhaurwa, suffered serious head wounds from axes.Others were also said to have been injured. There were no details of the killing in Harare. Nine people have died in the past two months of violence which has been precipitated by President Mugabe's desperate bid to hold on to power in the face of the strongest opposition challenge for years with upcoming elections.

Yesterday the MDC said seven of its supporters were among the dead and all had been killed in the past three weeks. Two white farmers and a farm worker have also been killed in the past two weeks and two women raped. The latest deaths provoked further concern in the international community.

The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "We need to manage a situation which is extremely dangerous and could get worse if it is not handled properly." He said he had talked to President Mugabe about land problems. "I have been encouraging them to reduce the tension."

The full might of the state has been mustered against the seven-month-old MDC which draws on members of the trades union movement. All over the country, so-called Zanu "war veterans" are beating up farm workers in an attempt to keep the rural poor, the bedrock of the party's support, in the Zanu fold.

Although land redistribution is a serious and unresolved issue in Zimbabwe, the "veterans" invasion of up to 1,000 white-owned farms is a smoke-screen for the wider campaign against the MDC and the violence unleashed mainly against blacks across the country. Off the farm, in rural villages people say they are subject to daily intimidation and brutal attacks.

The most popular theory amongst Zimbabweans is that Mr Mugabe is fuelling violence so he can claim his country is too unstable for promised elections. Others believe his supporters are simply ensuring that people will be too terrified not to vote for him when elections are eventually announced.

They say Mr Mugabe will not make the same mistake as he did in February when he heavily lost a referendum which would have granted him even greater powers.

Unusually, the police have arrested five suspects over killings on Monday. Officers say two men died in confrontations between the MDC and Zanu-PF youths.

The worse clash involved 1,000 Zanu supporters and 300 members of the MDC last week. The MDC says its members were ambushed after a rally. The army had to be called in to put an end to the violence. The incident feeds the fears of those who believe the country could descend into bloody war before the elections.

Rural residents say government supporters are demanding party membership cards and forcing people to join up. Many seem to be doing so to avoid harassment.

But just how many will be brave at the polls, should elections actually take place, remains to be seen.

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