June 22, 2008

Opposition pulls out of election race

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he is pulling out of Friday's presidential run-off, handing victory to President Robert Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai said there was no point running when elections would not be free and fair and "the outcome is determined by... Mugabe himself". He called on the global community to step in to protect Zimbabweans. The decision came after opposition supporters heading to a rally in the capital Harare came under attack. The MDC says at least 70 supporters have been killed in recent months. At a press conference on Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai said: "It is for the world to see there is no need to proceed with this so-called election if the outcome is determined by President Mugabe himself." "We will not play the game of Mugabe." On Sunday, the opposition was due to stage a rally in the capital - the highlight of the campaign. But supporters of Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF occupied the stadium venue and roads leading up to it. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of youths around the venue wielding sticks, some chanting slogans, and others circling the stadium crammed onto the backs of trucks. They reportedly set upon opposition activists, leaving a number badly injured. The MDC said African election monitors were also chased away from the rally site.

The MDC says Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential election outright during the first round in March. The government admits he won more votes than President Mugabe, but says he did not take enough to win outright. Mr Mugabe has said he will never accept a Zimbabwe run by the MDC. On Saturday, South Africa sent two mediators to Harare, just days after its President, Thabo Mbeki, went to Zimbabwe himself, for separate talks with Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai. The BBC's Peter Biles, in Johannesburg, says this was possibly a last effort to persuade Mr Mugabe to cancel the election run-off, and to persuade both sides to begin negotiations on a government of national unity. It is widely accepted that in the present circumstances, with serious political violence, the election will not resolve Zimbabwe's problems, our correspondent adds. The MDC says its members have been beaten, and its supporters evicted from their homes, forcing it to campaign in near secrecy. The party's secretary general, Tendai Biti, is under arrest charged with treason. Mr Mugabe has accused the MDC of acting in the interest of Britain, the former colonial power, and other Western countries. Zimbabwe's other immediate neighbours have also added their voices to increasing international concern over the validity of the run-off. (ZWNews)

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