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2805Zimbabwe opposition offices ransacked

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  • Greg Cannon
    Apr 3, 2008

      Zimbabwe opposition offices ransacked

      By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer 43 minutes ago

      HARARE, Zimbabwe - Intruders ransacked offices of the
      main opposition party and police detained foreign
      journalists Thursday in an ominous sign that President
      Robert Mugabe might turn to intimidation and violence
      in trying to stave off an electoral threat to his
      28-year rule.

      Earlier, Mugabe apparently launched his campaign for
      an expected run-off presidential ballot even before
      the official results of Saturday's election were
      announced, with state media portraying the opposition
      as divided and controlled by former colonial ruler

      Five days after the vote, the Zimbabwe Electoral
      Commission still had not released results on
      presidential election despite increasing international
      pressure, including from former U.N. chief Kofi Annan,
      who recently mediated an end to Kenya's postelection

      The opposition Movement for Democratic Change already
      asserted its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the
      presidency outright, but said it was prepared to
      compete in any run-off.

      The police raids came a day after official results
      showed Mugabe's party had lost control of parliament's
      210-member lower house. The election commission was
      slow on the 60 elected seats in the Senate, releasing
      the first returns late Thursday that gave five seats
      each to the opposition and ruling party.

      MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti said hotel rooms
      used as offices by the opposition at a Harare hotel
      were ransacked by intruders he believed were either
      police or agents of the feared Central Intelligence

      "Mugabe has started a crackdown," Biti told The
      Associated Press. "It is quite clear he has unleashed
      a war."

      Biti said the raid at the Meikles Hotel targeted
      "certain people ... including myself." He said
      Tsvangirai was "safe" but had canceled plans for a
      news conference. Tsvangirai was arrested and severely
      beaten by police a year ago after a banned opposition

      In a further signal of the government's hardening
      mood, heavily armed riot police surrounded and entered
      a Harare hotel housing foreign correspondents and took
      four away, said a man answering the telephone at the
      hotel. Eight journalists were staying at the York

      Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times,
      said Times correspondent Barry Bearak, a winner of a
      2002 Pulitzer Prize, was one of those taken into
      custody. "An American consular official who visited
      him at the central police station reported that he was
      being held for `violation of the journalism laws,'"
      Keller said.

      The identities of the other reporters hadn't been

      The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists
      expressed alarm over the detentions and called for the
      reporters' immediate release. "It is imperative that
      all journalists, foreign and domestic, be allowed to
      work freely," said Joel Simon, the group's executive

      Zimbabwe lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said "quite a few"
      American and British people had been detained by
      police but no charges had been filed against them. She
      said some were being questioned indiviually by police
      but were not allowed to have lawyers present.

      Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped force
      an end to white minority rule and bring about an
      independent Zimbabwe in 1980, but his popularity has
      been battered by an economic freefall that followed
      the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial
      farms in 2000.

      Seemingly laying the groundwork for a Mugabe run-off
      campaign, the state-run Herald newspaper said the
      ruling ZANU-PF party was running neck and neck with
      the opposition in the vote count, and it highlighted
      divisions among Mugabe's foes.

      The Herald also charged that Tsvangirai would give
      farmland back to whites.

      The opposition leader has not said that, but has
      promised to make an equitable distribution of land to
      people who know how to farm. Mugabe claimed his land
      reform was to benefit poor blacks, but gave most
      seized farms to relatives, friends and cronies, and
      agricultural production has plunged.

      Mugabe has sought to deflect criticism over widespread
      shortages of food, fuel and other goods by blaming
      former colonizer Britain and other Western nations.
      But Western sanctions involve only visa bans and
      frozen bank accounts for Mugabe and about 100 of his

      Independent election observers say their projections
      based on election results posted at a representative
      sample of local polling stations indicate Tsvangirai
      won the most votes in the presidential contest, but
      not enough to avoid a run-off. A run-off would have to
      be held by April 20.

      Mugabe, who appeared on state television Thursday for
      the first time since the elections, was said to be
      pondering conflicting advice from his advisers on
      whether to quietly cede power or face a run-off, both
      humiliating prospects for the 84-year-old president.

      Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Mugabe
      was ready for a run-off.

      "President Mugabe is going to fight. He is not going
      anywhere. He has not lost," Matonga said on British
      Broadcasting Corp. "We are going to go hard and fight
      and get the majority required."

      Reports said leaders of the ruling party scheduled a
      meeting Friday to discuss the run-off. Nathan
      Shamuyarira, the party's secretary for information and
      publicity, said that "we have many meetings tomorrow,"
      but declined to give further detail.

      Matonga accused the opposition of trying "to get rid
      of President Mugabe at all costs and that is what we
      are going to fight."

      "This election campaign was not a campaign for
      democracy but a campaign for regime change," he said,
      adding that the opposition was being backed by the

      Matonga said ZANU-PF would campaign vigorously in "a
      very peaceful manner."

      Biti said the police clampdown was a sign of worse to
      follow, but insisted the opposition would not go into

      "You can't hide away from fascism. Zimbabwe is a small
      country. So we are not going into hiding. We are just
      going to have to be extra cautious," he said.

      International concern mounted about the continuing
      delays in releasing official election results.

      "We still have not seen the important thing, which is
      real live election results," State Department
      spokesman Tom Casey said. "We need to see an official
      tally, see it soon and have assurances made that this
      is actually a correct counting of the votes."

      Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, said the
      delay was dangerous. He urged the government and the
      election commission "to declare the election results
      faithfully and accurately."

      "We live in an open world today and indeed the eyes of
      the world are on Zimbabwe, on its electoral
      commission, on its president," Annan said. "I urge
      them to do the right thing, to respect the
      constitution and to obey the electoral laws. The
      election results should be released now."

      The election commission said it was still receiving
      ballot boxes from the provinces, raising questions
      about where the votes had been. The opposition has
      charged Mugabe planned to rig the results, and Western
      election observers have accused him of stealing
      previous elections.

      According to official results, a total of 2,405,147
      valid votes were cast in Saturday's parliamentary
      contests, supporting opposition charges that the voter
      roll of 5.9 million names had been hugely inflated
      with dead and fictitious people.