Zimbabwe parliament gives Mugabe draconian new powers

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwean parliament this afternoon approved draconian new laws giving President Robert Mugabe the most sweeping powers yet to silence and jail his critics.

The decision followed an announcement last night by the country's army that it would not recognise the result of presidential elections in March if President Mugabe loses.

Mr Mugabe has announced elections for the presidency would be held on 9 and 10 March. But, in a critical boost to his re-election campaign, he tightened the clampdown on opponents and critics by securing a fast track procedure on two repressive bills curbing the right to free speech and imposing death sentences on anyone convicted of "aiding terrorism".

The clampdown will ban foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe. Local journalists will have to apply for permits and face jail for stories deemed critical of the Mugabe regime or liable to generate hostility towards him.

A public order bill gives police wider powers of search, arrest and detention and broadens the range of crimes qualifying as terrorist acts.

Mr Mugabe's party enjoys a majority in parliament because the constitution allows him to appoint 30 of the 150 MPs. All day yesterday state-run radio urged MPs to turn up for the vote.

Tension rose dramatically with the announcement by Zimbabwe's military and security chiefs that they would back no leader that had not fought in the liberation struggle. That was clearly aimed at the opposition challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who was a civilian labour activist before Zimbabwe won independence.

The statement by Defence Force commander general Vitalis Zinavashe outraged many who believe Mr Mugabe will use the army to stage a coup d'etat if he loses the election.

Critics say the new laws exceed the worst excesses of Rhodesia's white minority government or apartheid South Africa but the justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told parliament the bills were needed to fight terrorism.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has warned Britain will demand Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth if the situation deteriorates.

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