Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Tuesday April 08, 2008 [14:00]
At least 80 Zimbabwean opposition activists have been assaulted by pro-government militants in different parts of the country, the opposition says. The alleged assaults took place in the eastern province of Manicaland and Matabeleland in the west. This year's election campaign has been relatively peaceful until now.
Meanwhile, a judge has agreed to hear an opposition request that the results of last month's presidential election be released, as an urgent matter.
"The case should proceed," said Justice Tendai Uchena in Harare's High Court. The opposition says the violence is meant to intimidate rural voters ahead of a possible run-off poll.
Independent and ruling party projections say opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai gained most votes but not the 50% needed to win outright. His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says he gained 50.3% of the vote and so should be declared the winner. President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF has demanded a recount of the vote, while police have arrested at least seven election officials, accused of under-counting votes cast for Zimbabwe's long-time leader.
'Battle for land'
The reports of violence coincide with the invasion of white-owned farms by so-called "war veterans". Some 60 farmers have fled their homes, according to Commercial Farmers' Union President Trevor Gifford. "The situation is very severe. The evictions are continuing right round the country," he told Reuters news agency.
One ex-army officer told a BBC contributor in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo that he had fled his home after being attacked for supporting independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni. "These guys war veterans have started violence and it will continue until the re-run," he said. He said that at least 20 other opposition supporters had been assaulted in the Nyamandlovu district north of Bulawayo. Mr Makoni's campaign officials say their supporters have also been attacked in three other districts of Matabeleland.
In Manicaland, opposition parliamentary candidate Misheck Kagurabadza said that about 60 families had fled their homes after being harassed by so-called "war veterans" who had invaded nearby white-owned farms.
"People are being beaten for supporting the MDC," said the MP-elect for the Mutasa South constituency, just north of Mutare. One of his election agents was seriously assaulted, he said. The reports have not been independently confirmed, although they have been reported to the police.
The invasion of white-owned farms came as President Mugabe called on the black population to ensure white farmers did not reverse his land redistribution programme. "Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites," the state-owned Herald newspaper quoted him as saying on Monday.
The widespread invasion of white-owned farms from 2000 coincided with a campaign of intimidation against opposition supporters in rural areas. The government says the land reform programme was needed to right colonial era wrongs, when black villagers were evicted from the most fertile land. Some reports suggest that the areas where there have been land invasions are rural areas which voted for the opposition. Results have been published in the parliamentary race and Zanu-PF has lost its majority for the first time since independence.
Police said the election officials have been charged with fraud and criminal abuse of duty, accused of taking nearly 5,000 votes away from Mr Mugabe. On Monday, Mr Tsvangirai visited regional powerhouse South Africa, where he met ANC President Jacob Zuma. No word has emerged from those talks. Mr Mugabe's critics have long urged South Africa to take a tougher line on Zimbabwe's leader over allegations of human rights abuses.
Government ministers have said the arrested election officials were paid to falsify the election results.
They say the results posted outside polling stations showed more votes for Mr Mugabe than the forms forwarded to Harare for counting.
"That's absolute rubbish," MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told the BBC's Network Africa programme. That's the desperate act of a dinosaur regime that has lost an election," he said. Mr Biti said that anyone who worked for the ZEC was carefully vetted by the authorities. He also urged the international community, and African leaders in particular, to press Mr Mugabe to accept defeat, saying otherwise there could be "bloodshed". "They want to see dead bodies before they send Kofi Annan," he said, referring to recent violence over disputed elections in Kenya.