Mugabe: 'I'll go to war with MDC'

Zimbabwe's leader vows to stop opposition winning
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Robert Mugabe yesterday vowed to "go to war" to prevent the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from gaining power in next week's Zimbabwean presidential run-off election.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters and soldiers, Mr Mugabe said he would "never accept" an MDC victory when the country goes to the polls on 27 June. "These pathetic puppets taking over this country? Let's see. That is not going to happen," he said.

As Mr Mugabe was speaking, his security forces were arresting the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 11 of his colleagues as they made their way to an election rally. Mr Tsvangirai has been arrested several times since he returned to Zimbabwe to campaign in the run-off presidential vote. The 12 men were released after being held for three hours.

Mr Tsvangirai's number two, Tendai Biti, remained in custody, though, two days after being arrested on charges of "treason and making malicious statements detrimental to the interests of the state". After the police refused to bring him to court – and his colleagues began to fear for his safety – Mr Biti finally appeared in front of a judge yesterday. He is expected to return tomorrow to face formal charges. The document police cited as evidence of Mr Biti's "treason" was a normal election memo, diplomats said.

Mr Tsvangirai won more votes than Mr Mugabe in March's presidential election, but official results claim he did not get the more than 50 per cent needed to claim victory. Since then, Mr Mugabe's regime has cracked down. The opposition claims more than 60 of its supporters have been killed and thousands have been beaten.

Mr Mugabe's rhetoric has become increasingly bellicose. He has accused the MDC of being nothing more than a front for Britain and the United States. "Never again shall this country come under the rule of the white man, direct or indirect. Not while we, who fought for its liberation, live," he said. "We are prepared to fight for it if we lose it in the same way that our forefathers lost it." Last week he warned that Zimbabwe's notorious "war veterans" would return to war if the MDC won.

"It is clearly impossible to talk about a free and fair election in Zimbabwe," the MDC said after Mr Tsvangirai's arrest. "To suggest otherwise is to be clearly blind to the grave harassment, intimidation and violence that the people of Zimbabwe have had to endure over the past few years."

There are growing signs that Mr Mugabe's southern African peers are beginning to tire of his regime. Botswana has said it is "deeply disturbed" by the spate of arrests, while Jacob Zuma, the likely next president of South Africa, is also thought to be unhappy with Mr Mugabe's tactics.

In the past week Western diplomats have been detained and international aid agencies have been barred from distributing food. Many aid agencies are now pulling out of Zimbabwe – just as the country's food crisis deepens.