Opposition ready to drop election boycott

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Zimbabwe's main opposition party drew back yesterday from plans to boycott parliamentary elections, despite political violence that has claimed 19 lives and intimidation by supporters of President Robert Mugabe.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said: "At this stage such a boycott is not an option." Party sources said his about-turn came after the MDC received telephone calls from supporters in Zimbabwe, Europe and the US urging it to contest the poll.

The MDC's policy body meets on Saturday but Mr Tsvangirai said he was "very certain" it would decide not to boycott the polls. Learn Zongwe, MDC head of security, said: "Violence against our people will not deter us from demonstrating against Mugabe. If dying is what it takes, let it be."

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which with some 600,000 members is the main support base for the MDC, said it had not been asked by the political leadership to organise mass action. Nomore Sibanda, ZCTU spokesman, said the national executive had not met to decide "whether the workers should down tools". Two weeks ago the federation wrote to Mr Mugabe calling for an end to violence "or we take action".

In January 1998 a two-day stayaway over a government proposal to impose a 5 per cent levy on workers to pay veterans of the independence war resulted in two days of running battles with police. Shops were looted, scores of people injured and 3,000 demonstrators held.

The most recent mass action organised by workers and the National Constitutional Assembly grouping was on 1 April this year. It also ended in violence after attacks by supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

Mr Tsvangirai said the party executive would also discuss sending delegations to the Commonwealth, European Union, United Nations and regional states. A party envoy is in Europe to press for sanctions against Harare.