Zimbabwe Detains Mugabe Rival for Second Time in Three Days
Saturday, June 7, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 6 -- The opposition's presidential candidate was briefly detained Friday for the second time this week as Zimbabwean authorities intensified a crackdown on political opponents and what they consider outside meddling.
Police arrested Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, while he was campaigning for the June 27 runoff election in a rural area about 400 miles south of Harare, the capital. He was released two hours later without being charged.
"Tsvangirai and other party leaders were today detained again in Umzingwane," opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said. "He was later released and instructed to go back to Bulawayo instead of proceeding with his campaign."
Tsvangirai was detained in the same province for several hours Wednesday.
Tsvangirai's second arrest came a day after supporters of President Robert Mugabe attacked a convoy carrying several U.S. and British diplomats and authorities suspended all work by aid organizations operating in the country.
The ruling party accuses the aid organizations of supporting the opposition in the runoff. Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said the groups were "buying votes for the MDC using food. That will not be allowed here. We will not tolerate that."
About 4 million Zimbabweans, a third of the population, are dependent on food aid amid a deepening economic crisis and a series of poor harvests.
"You have a situation, a very dire economy in Zimbabwe . . . just finding the next meal is an extremely major exercise for a great many people," Kenneth Walker, Africa communications manager for CARE, told the Reuters news service. "So several million people without access to food aid, health services, education, clean water and sanitation facilities are at risk."
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the government's recent actions were an indication of its growing paranoia. "It is now clear that Zimbabwe is now a police state," he said.
The diplomats were visiting victims of political violence north of Harare when they were attacked by ruling party supporters, according to U.S. officials. A police spokesman said the diplomats fled the crowd and then tried to drive through a police roadblock north of Harare, forcing police to deflate their tires. One of the convoy's drivers, a Zimbabwean, was beaten.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would raise the incident with the U.N. Security Council and discuss the Mugabe government's behavior toward its citizens and the political opposition.
McCormack acknowledged that Zimbabwe "has previously not been a subject . . . that has gotten very far in terms of Security Council discussions" but said the Bush administration hopes to "highlight the fact that the international system is watching events in Zimbabwe and that the actions by the Mugabe government will not go unremarked."