Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 23 -- Heavily armed police officers raided the headquarters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party on Monday, dragging away about 60 people -- including children -- on a day when world leaders condemned violence by the Zimbabwean government in increasingly strong terms.
As Tsvangirai took refuge in the Dutch Embassy here, the U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed in New York that the violence and restrictions on Tsvangirai's party "have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place" on Friday.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the government of President Robert Mugabe to postpone the scheduled runoff election, saying the vote would lack "all legitimacy." But Zimbabwe's U.N. ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, dismissed the appeal, saying, "As far as the runoff is concerned, the election goes ahead."
Many of the 60 people who were shoved into Zimbabwean police vehicles had sought refuge at party headquarters after being beaten or forced to flee their homes in a campaign of coercion waged by Mugabe in advance of the runoff election.
The runoff was to have pitted Mugabe against Tsvangirai. But the opposition candidate quit the race Sunday, citing the wave of violence against his supporters. "We cannot stand there and watch people being killed for the sake of power," Tsvangirai said. The government said it would conduct the vote without him.
His withdrawal galvanized many international figures to echo his statements that a free election had become impossible. Many spoke out against Mugabe, who over 28 years has led this once-bountiful country into economic ruin.
The round of state-sponsored torture, beatings and killings began after Mugabe lost the first round of voting on March 29. Election officials deemed a runoff necessary because neither candidate received a majority of the votes.
The opposition says that 86 supporters have been killed, more than 10,000 injured and 200,000 forced from their homes.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the attacks have "reinforced that it's impossible for there to be a free, fair or peaceful" runoff vote.
"It is abundantly clear that Mugabe is determined to thwart the will of the people of Zimbabwe as so clearly expressed on March 29," Rice said in a statement. She added that Mugabe's government "cannot be considered legitimate in the absence of a runoff" and must be held accountable.
In Britain, Mark Malloch Brown, minister for Africa, said his government supported Tsvangirai's decision to end his challenge and would push for new sanctions against Mugabe. "Our objectives are to get in every forum possible a recognition that today President Mugabe no longer remains the proper rightful leader of the country," Malloch Brown told reporters.
In an interview with the BBC, Malloch Brown said that though Zimbabwe already faces various foreign sanctions, many more could be applied. "There's been no global effort to delegitimize the regime," he said. ". . . What Mugabe has done in recent weeks is largely unite the world against him."
In his New York statement, Secretary General Ban said that the wave of pre-election violence and the "understandable" withdrawal of the opposition candidate had undercut the prospects of a free and fair election. "There has been too much violence, too much intimidation. A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy," Ban said.
Ban dismissed claims -- advanced most prominently by South Africa -- that the political turmoil in Zimbabwe was a domestic matter that should be resolved by the country's leaders and friendly neighbors. He said the government's effort to thwart fair elections imposes the "single greatest challenge" to stability in southern Africa.
Ban said his special envoy, Haile Menkerios, is prepared to talk with government and opposition leaders to resolve the political crisis. But the secretary general's tough remarks provided an opening for the United States and Britain to press the Security Council to take a more active role in confronting Mugabe.
At the United Nations, Britain circulated a draft Security Council statement condemning the Zimbabwe government's campaign of violence and calling for the recognition of results from Zimbabwe's first round of voting, which Mugabe narrowly lost, as "the only legitimate basis for a government in Zimbabwe."
The British draft urged Zimbabwe to allow U.N. and African Union envoys to take the lead in negotiating a governmental transition. But the final Security Council statement scrapped that language, which was opposed by council member South Africa.
South Africa's U.N. ambassador, Dumisani S. Kumalo, said that his government is engaged in "sensitive" political talks in Harare with the Mugabe government and members of the opposition. He said the British strategy would amount to an acknowledgment that the African mediation effort "has failed. That's not true."
Instead, Security Council members adopted a watered-down statement that condemned the government's role in denying the opposition the right to freely campaign. The 15-nation council called on Zimbabwe to allow the resumption of international relief operations and to cooperate with all efforts to negotiate a political pact allowing "a legitimate government to be formed that reflects the will of the people."
A number of controversial provisions in the original British proposal were dropped, including the one that would have recognized Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe's legitimate leader.
Foreign ministers of members of the Southern African Development Community, meanwhile, were meeting in Angola on Monday to discuss the crisis, which Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, the SADC chairman, called a "tremendous embarrassment to all of us."
Zimbabwean opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said that nearly 1,000 people had sought temporary refuge at the party headquarters. At the time of the raid, he said, "the police arrested everyone who had remained in the building, including seriously injured political violence victims who could not run away, and drove them away in a bus. They looted MDC office furniture and computers containing party information."
Mugabe spokesman George Charamba confirmed the raid. "The police have a right to deal with criminals," he said. "The police are looking for suspects of political violence. What is wrong with that?"
The chairman of Zimbabwe's electoral commission acknowledged that political violence is occurring 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," said the chairman, George Chiweshe. "We do not have a war in Zimbabwe . . . we will be able to hold a credible election on Friday."
Staff writers Debbi Wilgoren in Washington and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.