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
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
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,'"
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
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.