Police crackdown on Zimbabwe unrest

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's police commissioner promised to use more sweeping powers to end the political violence that has killed more than a dozen people since February.

Commissioner Augustine Chihuri said he would enforce a law that forbids party officials to bus supporters to rallies unless the events were officiated by presidents of political parties. Police must also have ample notice before the start of any large public gathering or rally, he said.

Meanwhile farm leaders said a second farm worker died from injuries allegedly suffered during an attack by ruling party militants on Tuesday on a banana estate near Harare.

Mr Chihuri dismissed opposition claims that the police have incited some attacks and sat passively watching others, saying instead that the ruling party and the opposition shared responsibility.

"The police do not cause violence," Chihuri told reporters and officials from different parties. "It is you and your supporters who think politics is violence, and go about and do violence. You should stop it and cease to accuse police of creating violence."

Mr Chihuri accused party officials of inciting attacks by making inflammatory statements and "drowning supporters in alcohol to make them more vicious and callous."

In a statement read before a closed-door meeting with officials from the ruling party, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and officials from several smaller parties, Commissioner Chihuri said there had been 194 acts of political violence since January.

Seven people had been killed, he said, adding that both the ruling party and the MDC had been involved in killings. The murders of a black policeman and two white farmers were not related to politics, he said, but to the two-month-old occupation of white-owned farms by black squatters, which he called a separate issue.

Reports from farm officials, opposition leaders and others indicate that at least 13 people have died from violence related to the country's political crisis, including the land occupations.

The violence started when armed squatters led by men claiming to be veterans of the bush war that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 moved onto white-owned farms after ruling party-backed constitutional referendum was defeated in February.

Squatters now occupy 1,000 farms and say they will not leave until they are assured they will receive land. About 4,000 white farmers own nearly one-third of Zimbabwe's productive farm land.

Mr Chihuri urged calm as parliamentary elections, expected to be called in May, approach.

"Exercise restraint, patience and tolerance, and above all, hold the sanctity of human rights," he said.

Zimbabwean officials were holding talks on the land crisis with British officials in London on Thursday. British authorities have offered to pay up to 36 million pounds for land reform over the next two years if Zimbabwe ends the occupations and agrees to a fair transfer of land.