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Mugabe's Challenger Seeks Refuge at Dutch Embassy
Tsvangirai said Sunday that participating in the election, which he called a "sham," would be tantamount to putting more lives at risk because Mugabe "has made it clear that he is at war." He announced his decision to pull out after Mugabe's party militia and war veterans blocked a planned opposition party rally.
The chair of Zimbabwe's electoral commission admitted that there is political violence but said it was not "serious enough to discredit the election as not being free and fair."
"Some people can also describe an election held in Iraq as free and fair depending on how you evaluate," commission chair George Chiweshe said. "We do not have a war in Zimbabwe . . . we will be able to hold a credible election on Friday."
Since the first round of voting, gangs of ruling-party youths and other supporters have rampaged through rural Zimbabwe and increasingly moved into major cities, attacking anyone showing signs of opposition support, even a T-shirt or bandanna bearing the party colors, red and black.
"Zimbabweans have also shown how brave and resilient they can be. They have withstood years of brutality, impoverishment and intimidation. They are dedicated to a new democratic Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai said at a news conference Sunday at his home in Harare, the capital. "But we in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote could cost them their lives."
The violence has drawn widespread condemnation from the United States, Europe and many African countries. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, one of several African leaders to speak out after Mugabe threatened last week to continue ruling even if he lost the runoff, said that "Zimbabwe remains an eyesore on the African continent."
But no leader, Zimbabwean or otherwise, has yet shown the ability to drive out the increasingly lawless Mugabe government despite the deep privation of Zimbabweans, who are enduring chronic food shortages -- about a third of the population is dependent on food aid -- and levels of inflation rarely seen in a country not at war.
Party officials said they knew of no active diplomatic efforts to remove Mugabe, who at 84 is among the last of a fading generation of African autocrats.
The posting of individual results at Zimbabwe's more than 9,000 polling stations was an electoral reform sought by the opposition, and the handwritten sheets gave the first clear evidence of Mugabe's loss in March. But since then, the results have provided a neighborhood-by-neighborhood map of opposition support, and the areas that supported Tsvangirai have drawn most of the attacks.
Zimbabwean election officials said Sunday that they will hold the vote Friday even though Tsvangirai is no longer participating. Mugabe's government officials said they plan to continue preparations for the vote.
"We are busy campaigning. Tsvangirai is known to make these statements," said Bright Mutonga, the deputy information minister. "He must write to confirm that he is pulling out; otherwise it's a bluff."
Tsvangirai, who has been beaten and arrested several times since becoming opposition leader in 1999, left Zimbabwe shortly after the first round of voting because of fears about his safety. He returned in late May, vowing to defeat Mugabe and saying that "there is no such thing as a risk-free environment in this country."
"I return home to Zimbabwe with a sad heart," Tsvangirai said at the time. "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."
Staff writers Debbi Wilgoren in Washington and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.