Zimbabwe Opposition Demands Mugabe Quit to Avoid Violence
Sunday, April 6, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 5 -- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai declared Saturday that Zimbabwe "does not need another war" and demanded that President Robert Mugabe step down rather than contest a second round of voting that many expect will turn violent.
Tsvangirai called for negotiations, with the assistance of the African Union and international groups, to end an eight-day-old political stalemate that began last weekend with a historic loss for Mugabe and his ruling party. With the presidential vote headed for an apparent runoff, Tsvangirai warned that a new election would deepen polarization in a country with a history of political violence.
Tsvangirai vowed to protect the jobs of state employees, the pensions of military veterans and the land of peasants who received farms during the nation's chaotic land redistribution in 2000. He also offered amnesty to Mugabe for past misdeeds.
"I want to say to President Mugabe: Please rest your mind," Tsvangirai said at a news conference in Harare, the capital. "The new Zimbabwe guarantees your safety."
Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of preparing to unleash a vicious campaign of political violence reminiscent of the brutal election seasons of 2000, 2002 and, to a lesser extent, 2005. The charge came as clusters of riot police with helmets and clubs appeared across Harare. Veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war, a feared group loosely controlled by Mugabe, have vowed to deploy to resist opposition gains.
The comments, Tsvangirai's most expansive since the vote, came just days after he publicly embraced the idea of a runoff vote and one day after Mugabe's party endorsed the idea. On Saturday, Tsvangirai said he was reluctant to participate in a second round amid signs that the president might resort to violence to stay in power.
Ruling party officials dismissed Tsvangirai's allegations and questioned his motives in seeking to avoid a runoff. They also criticized repeated claims by opposition leaders that Tsvangirai won the presidential election by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff.
"This is one of the dirty tricks that they've always used," said Didymus Mutasa, a Mugabe cabinet minister and top ruling party official. "They want to get into power unconstitutionally."
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who led a southern African regional mediation effort over the past year to resolve Zimbabwe's political crisis, said that now was the "time to wait. Let's see the outcome of the election results."
Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, known as ZANU-PF, has vowed a much more vigorous campaign in the second round of voting. Many Zimbabweans have interpreted that as a return to the days when the ruling party's youth militias and secret police threatened and intimidated opposition supporters with kidnappings, beatings and firebombings.
The ruling party also has stepped up allegations that Tsvangirai intends to return farms seized during the land invasions to their former white owners, many of whom fled the country. The Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, has reported that whites are massing near Zimbabwe's borders, ready to return should the opposition win.
Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Barry Bearak remained in custody after being charged Friday with violating Zimbabwe's strict journalism laws.