Militias accused of threats to Mugabe's rivals

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwean opposition yesterday accused the ruling Zanu-PF of orchestrating "massive violence" to intimidate opponents ahead of a likely run-off vote between President Robert Mugabe and his challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai.

"Militias are being rearmed, Zanu-PF supporters are being rearmed," said the secretary general of Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, as he appealed for help from the rest of Africa.

The crackdown was ordered against any perceived opponents, and the regime arrested scores of opposition activists as well as electoral officials accused of undercounting votes cast in favour of Mr Mugabe.

About 60 white farmers have been forced off their land since Saturday, said Mike Clark, a spokesman for the farmers' union. But the Information Minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, called the claims outright lies and said there had been no outbreak of violence.

Although the MDC won the parliamentary election on 29 March, results of the presidential poll remain secret 10 days after the vote, and the high court yesterday began hearing an opposition case demanding their immediate release. The ruling party has been preparing the ground for an expected run-off.

Jacob Zuma, who defeated President Thabo Mbeki for the leadership of South Africa's ruling African National Congress in December and is the frontrunner to succeed him as president, said it was wrong for the authorities in Zimbabwe to keep their people in suspense.

"I don't think it augurs very well... keeping the international community in suspense ... keeping Zimbabweans in suspense," he said on South African radio. A day earlier he had met Mr Tsvangirai in Johannesburg during the Zimbabwe opposition leader's first foreign trip since the election.

Mr Tsvangirai is understood to have sought Mr Zuma's assistance and intervention to urge Mr Mugabe to accept his apparent defeat in the presidential elections and allow the country to move forward. President Mbeki is still reticent to intervene.

Mr Biti said it was incomprehensible that African organisations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were failing to take a firm stand against Mr Mugabe despite all the evidence that he was trampling on the people's will and was preparing war to cling to power.

"We [Africa] responded poorly in Rwanda and a million people were killed," Mr Biti told reporters in Harare. "I say to my brothers and sisters across the continent, 'Don't wait for dead bodies on the streets of Harare. Intervene now'. There's a constitutional and legal crisis in Zimbabwe."

Many Zimbabweans and South Africans fed up with Mr Mbeki's persistent support for the Mugabe regime are hoping for a change of policy if Mr Zuma takes over. His allies who helped him gain the ANC presidency, including leaders of the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions, are staunch critics of Mr Mugabe. Many Cosatu leaders were declared personae non grata by authorities in Zimbabwe.