Election unrest kills 50 in Zimbabwe

Published on Monday 26th May 2008

Harare: More than 50 people have been killed in political violence since Zimbabwe's disputed March 29 elections and 25,000 have fled their homes, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Tuesday.

Official figures showed Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe in the election, but did not garner enough votes to avoid a second round poll, which has been set for June 27.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party has launched a violent campaign against its supporters since the March elections in a bid to avoid another defeat next month. The ruling party denies the charge, and in turn blames the opposition for the violence.

"Over 50 Zimbabweans have been killed in the past six weeks. More than 25,000 people have been displaced. I've been saddened that Zimbabweans are willing to shed the blood of other Zimbabweans over political differences," Tsvangirai told a news conference in the capital Harare.

"We are proceeding to compile the names of those who've committed these crimes. We will approach the attorney general to do something about it. I don't believe that anyone who has murdered someone should be forgiven, it is a criminal act to murder someone."

Tsvangirai said he was launching a 150 trillion Zimbabwean dollar fund for victims of political violence, to be run by representatives from churches and rights groups.

The MDC says police have taken a partisan stance in dealing with political violence, taking sides with ZANU-PF supporters.

In an apparent show of support for Mugabe on Tuesday, Zimbabwe's police chief Augustine Chihuri said the force had a duty to defend the country from what he called a threat from foreign powers and their local puppets.

Mugabe frequently accuses the MDC of being in thrall to former colonial power Britain and other Western governments he says want to oust him over his seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

"The nation is presently facing a myriad of challenges and machinations by external forces and their internal sympathisers, who I normally call puppets," Chihuri said.

"Its very existence and survival is threatened by these puppets and their handlers," he added, after conferring ranks on senior police officers in Harare.

Mugabe often accuses local privately owned and foreign media of a propaganda campaign against his government, and police have arrested several journalists covering events around the election.

On Tuesday, state television reported police had arrested three South Africans carrying broadcasting equipment at at a roadblock in the southwestern district of Esigodini last Friday.

"When they were asked to explain, they were unable to account properly how they got in possession of that property. The equipment suggests these people could be running a studio because all the gadgets are labelled Sky News," a police spokesman said on ZBC television.

He said the men would be charged under Zimbabwe's Broadcasting Act and tough media laws that critics say are aimed at stifling dissent against Mugabe. Sky News in London could not immediately be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, police chief Chihuri echoed Mugabe's campaign theme for the June 27 run-off, saying it was "instructive for all Zimbabweans to be clear in their understanding of what 100 percent empowerment and total independence means.

"(It) means revamping and overhauling the existing system in the manufacturing and mining sectors as was done in the agricultural sector," he said, alluding to the white farm seizures and a similar drive to nationalise foreign-owned mines and other businesses.

Chihuri also accused businesses of hiking prices of goods and services in order to force a change of government.