Student killed as Mugabe steps up war on opposition

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The Independent Online

A soldier has been arrested over the death of a University of Zimbabwe student who was thrown from a moving train at the weekend.

Political support for the opposition is strong on the university campus in Harare and the death of Lameck Chemvura, a second-year-student, is seen as part of increasing evidence that the government has launched a campaign of lightning strikes on people and areas suspected of supporting its opponents. Constitutional experts warned that President Robert Mugabe has effectively declared a back-door state of emergency and is often circumventing his parliament, ordering troop deployments, branding critics "terrorists" and ruling by decree.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who addresses Parliament today on Zimbabwe, is expected to say sanctions will soon be the European Union's only means to counter the blatancy and brutality of the 77-year-old President's campaign to stay in power.

President Mugabe's main weapon in his abuse of power is his Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act. Any ruling he makes under its provisions is valid for six months before it must be turned into draft legislation and put to parliament.

Lovemore Madhuku, the chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a pro-democracy umbrella group, said: "In almost every way, Mugabe is now running this country under an undeclared state of emergency.

"He is using the Act to amend existing laws and create new ones without having to put them to parliament. The way he is operating, he does not need to declare a state of emergency."

Last week, an EU delegation ostensibly concerned with the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Zimbabwe has 11,000 troops, was "told off" by President Mugabe for "lecturing" him on human rights and the rule of law, diplomats said. The EU, which has been barred from sending monitors ahead of presidential elections expected by April, has started a 75-day process leading to the severance of trade privileges and the imposition of sanctions at the end of January.

Last week, Mr Mugabe, in power for 21 years and wanting another five-year term, said opposition politicians and their party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were "terrorists". The President's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, said journalists, including The Independent's correspondent, Basildon Peta, were "aiding terrorism". The government plans to activate a Public Order Security Bill which will punish acts of "insurgency, banditry, sabotage, terrorism, treason and subversion" with life imprisonment or the death penalty.

President Mugabe also issued a new decree on seizure of commercial farmland. The arbitrary amendment of the Land Acquisition Act gives the Zimbabwe government the right to allocate land without giving owners the chance to appeal. If they resist they are liable to a fine or two years' jail.

Since last year's elections, the MDC has held one-third of seats in parliament, allowing the opposition to block changes to the constitution. But the Act now being used by President Mugabe gives him a free rein. Only the Supreme Court can rule his actions unconstitutional, as it did last week when it cleared the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, of treason, but the process takes months.

Last week the shadow Justice Minister, David Coltart, was held up at gunpoint by police at an airstrip near Harare. Mr Coltart, who was told a death squad was trying to target him, said: "The international community needs to start thinking through the consequences of Mugabe stealing this election.

"There are two things we already know: the rest of this country's skilled people, the teachers, the accountants, the lawyers will leave, and there will be a great danger of massive civil strife."