Opposition Leader Returns to Zimbabwe
Sunday, May 25, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe, May 24 -- Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, returned home Saturday after seven weeks away, vowing to defeat President Robert Mugabe in a runoff election June 27, despite a campaign of violence by the ruling party.
Tsvangirai and his advisers had repeatedly expressed fears for his safety in Zimbabwe, where he has been severely beaten and arrested in the past. But they concluded that he had no choice but to return to lead his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, which had pushed Mugabe to the edge of defeat in a March 29 vote. He left the country a few days after that election.
"There is no such thing as a risk-free environment in this country," Tsvangirai told reporters at a news conference in the capital, Harare.
He arrived to little fanfare at Harare's international airport. Later, he visited supporters hospitalized after attacks by Mugabe's followers that have killed dozens of people and left thousands homeless. Tsvangirai called the recent political violence the worst in Zimbabwe since the slaughter of minority Ndebeles in the 1980s.
"I return home to Zimbabwe with a sad heart," Tsvangirai said. "Even since my return a few hours ago, I have met and listened to stories of innocent people targeted by a regime desperate to cling to power."
Zimbabwe's political situation has been stalemated since the March election, in which Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe. The opposition also gained control of parliament in a historic defeat for the ruling party, which has controlled every branch of Zimbabwe's government since the nation's founding in 1980.
But election officials, after mysteriously delaying the release of the results for more than a month, said that Tsvangirai did not get the outright majority needed to win. Opposition officials disputed that claim but have agreed to participate in the runoff vote next month.
While he was away, Tsvangirai conducted an intensive diplomatic campaign among other African leaders, especially in southern Africa, where Mugabe had traditionally enjoyed the solid support of his neighbors. That has shifted, with pressure building for Mugabe to step down, but he and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, have shown little sign they intend to leave, despite the continuing implosion of the economy.
An independent report this week estimated Zimbabwe's inflation rate at more than 1 million percent. Ruling party militias, meanwhile, have targeted key opposition activists, especially in rural areas where Tsvangirai's support has been growing.