April 9, 2008 / 12:05 AM / 10 years ago

Zimbabwe's opposition warns of bloodshed

Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Secretary-General Tendai Biti speaks at a media conference in the capital Harare April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Howard Burditt

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s opposition accused President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday of unleashing a campaign of violence since the March 29 elections and called on African states to intervene to prevent widespread bloodshed.

The Movement for Democratic Change, which claims to have won the presidential and parliamentary polls, said Mugabe was trying to provoke a backlash as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency that could help him prolong his 28 years in power.

“I say to my brothers and sisters across the continent -- don’t wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare. There is a constitutional and legal crisis in Zimbabwe,” MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti told a news conference.

He said the ruling ZANU-PF had launched a violent campaign against opposition supporters following a stalemate over the election results and was trying to rig the polls so Mugabe could contest a runoff against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Election officials have yet to release the results of the presidential poll.

Tsvangirai says he won the vote outright and has demanded that Mugabe, whose critics accuse him of reducing a once prosperous nation to misery, step aside immediately to allow for the reconstruction of the economically devastated country.

Zimbabwe has inflation of more than 100,000 percent -- the highest in the world -- an unemployment rate above 80 percent and chronic shortages of food and fuel. Millions have fled abroad, most of them to South Africa.

ZANU-PF is pressing for a delay in issuing the presidential results pending a recount and is also alleging abuses by electoral officials in an attempt to overturn its first defeat in a parliamentary poll.

“Militias are being rearmed, ZANU-PF supporters are being rearmed. ... The long and short of it is that there has been a complete militarization of Zimbabwean society since the 29th of March 2008,” Biti added.

FARM EVICTIONS

A farmers’ union said independence war veterans, used as political shock troops by Mugabe, had evicted mostly white farmers from their land since the weekend.

“There is still a lot of trouble and lawlessness out there. Farmers are being forced out. In the last three days, we are looking at about 60 who have been evicted,” said Trevor Gifford, president of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU).

Zimbabwe state television said Tuesday night war veterans had occupied 11 farms in the northeastern part of the country.

Gifford said the veterans forced the farmers to leave their homes with only the clothes they were wearing and that those evicted included at least one black farmer.

Police said they were not aware of the farm invasions.

The veterans have already spearheaded the eviction of most white farmers under a controversial Mugabe land redistribution programme designed to redress injustices dating back to the British colonial era.

Tsvangirai wrote in a newspaper article that Zimbabwe was on a “razor’s edge” because of the 84-year-old Mugabe’s efforts to cling to power.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Mugabe on Tuesday to accept that he lost the presidential election and step down to ease tensions.

In a speech in San Francisco, the South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate said peacekeepers may be needed to help restore order in Zimbabwe and the country’s shattered economy could benefit from a “mini-Marshall Plan” like the initiative which helped rebuild Europe after World War Two.

SPILLOVER

The opposition says Mugabe is delaying the presidential election result to give him more time to prepare for a runoff, and has asked the High Court to force the release of the outcome.

“ZANU-PF is trying to cook the election result in order to engineer and achieve a run-off,” Biti said.

The High Court ruled on Tuesday it would treat the opposition’s application as urgent and began hearing arguments in the case. It later adjourned until Wednesday.

Legal proceedings are already in their fourth day and could drag further, delaying the end of the stalemate.

Traders in neighbouring South Africa said the impasse was likely to weigh on the rand currency, briefly boosted last week when there was speculation Mugabe would stand down after his ZANU-PF party lost the parliamentary poll.

“Counting against the rand is the way in which the Zimbabwe elections are rapidly deteriorating into a farce,” market analysts ETM said in a trading note.

South African ruling party leader Jacob Zuma on Tuesday criticised the election delay and said it was wrong to keep Zimbabweans and the international community in suspense. He made the remarks one day after meeting Tsvangirai in Johannesburg.

Tsvangirai has appealed for help from outside powers to end Mugabe’s uninterrupted rule since independence in 1980.

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