Mugabe's men evict Mayor of Harare from his office

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The Independent Online

By the time Elias Mudzuri, the Mayor of Harare, had arrived at his office yesterday morning, dozens of police officers and secret service agents were waiting to evict him. President Robert Mugabe's men took him to a police station, detained him for more than an hour, and then released him without charge. They warned him against ignoring previous orders to stay away from work.

Mr Mudzuri had known what to expect. He had signalled to The Independent in an interview published yesterday that he intended to ignore his suspension from office. But he was surprised by the large number of state agents deployed to harass him.

"I made a clear statement to The Independent that I am reporting back for duty today after going abroad on leave," he said. "That, together with other statements I had made, would naturally have spurred them into preparing this kind of harassment. The manner in which I was intimidated goes to prove the insanity of this regime ­ it's beyond redemption."

He said he would report for work again and if he was prevented from using his office, he would work from home.

Mr Mudzuri, the first elected opposition Mayor of Harare, is adamant that the Mugabe regime cannot push him out of office. He said: "How can a political party that was rejected in an election, simply remove an elected official from another political party just like that? What version of democracy is this?" Mr Mudzuri defeated a candidate sponsored by Mr Mugabe in the executive mayoral election in March last year by a wide margin. Soon after taking office, he launched an anti-corruption drive that began to unearth massive graft by previous councils loyal to the Mugabe regime.

Mr Mudzuri also ended a system that had allowed Mr Mugabe's ministers and cronies to expropriate large residential and commercial plots of land from the city without paying their market value. But the Mayor's anti-corruption campaign, in which one target was Ignatius Chombo, the Local Government and Housing Minister and an important ally of Mr Mugabe, was stopped when Mr Chombo suspended him. The minister accused the Mayor of corruption but the regime failed to substantiate the charge.

Mr Mudzuri and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, rejected the suspension. Even as he was being evicted from his office yesterday, Mr Mudzuri told security agents that he would return to his office.

He said the government had brought no charges against him. "If I was on the wrong side of the law, they could seek a court order barring me from reporting for duty," he said. "They will not do that because they have no case against me which they are confident of."

Charles Kennedy, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, condemned the arrest yesterday. He said: "Mayor Elias Mudzuri is a democratically elected representative of the people of Harare. In the year since he assumed office he has faced police harassment and intimidation as he has sought to fight the corruption that has become the hallmark of the Mugabe era.

"Robert Mugabe has no right to prevent him from carrying out his duties. He should be released immediately."

Mike Davies, the chairman of the Combined Harare Residents' Association, described the arrest and subsequent eviction as sustained harassment and intimidation.