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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • US urges Mugabe to release Tsvangirai
    Mail & Guardian (SA)
    March 12, 2007

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    The United States called on Sunday for the immediate release of Zimbabwean opposition leaders detained after riot police thwarted a planned mass protest against President Robert Mugabe's government.

    "The United States government condemns the brutal and unwarranted actions of the government of Zimbabwe [on] March 11 in attacking its citizens peacefully gathered to exercise their legitimate democratic rights at a prayer meeting in the Harare suburb of Highfield," State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said.

    The US embassy reported that one person was killed, "a number" were injured and 100 people were arrested, including Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, McCormack said in a statement.

    "Police have refused to inform lawyers of the whereabouts of those arrested, including Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara; and Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly," he said.

    "We hold President Robert Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe accountable for the government's actions today, and for the safety and well-being of those in custody," he said.

    "We call for the immediate release of those detained, and for the provision of medical treatment for those injured," McCormack said.

    Tsvangirai was one of dozens of MDC officials and activists detained in the Highfield area after they tried to defy a ban on protests in the capital.

    The police also confirmed they had shot dead an MDC activist whom they claimed had ignored warning shots as he threatened a group of officers.

    The fatal shooting and arrests further inflamed opinion among opponents of 83-year-old Mugabe as he voiced ambitions for another term of office.

    It is the second demonstration in a month against Mugabe, despite a police ban on all political gatherings.

    Ignoring opposition to his rule, Mugabe on Sunday announced he would run for re-election as president; he has held power since independence in 1980. Speaking to the Guardian on a visit to South Africa on Saturday, Tsvangirai said: "The regime is under siege because so many people are hungry. Desire for change has never been so strong. It is against this background that our party demands a new constitution that will ensure free and fair conditions in the presidential elections in 2008."

    Mugabe was quoted in the Southern Times, a regional newspaper published jointly by the Zimbabwean and Namibian state media, as saying that he would run in 2008: "If the party says so, I will stand." If he wins, he will be 90 when his new term expires in 2014.

    Tsvangirai vowed there would be more demonstrations in the lead-up to elections, despite a ban: "We will make the dictatorship costly. They will have to buy more tear gas and put more police on standby to keep their regime in power."

    The MDC leader tried to launch his drive for presidential elections under a new constitution on February 18, but police forcibly dispersed that rally. Police later announced a ban on all meetings.

    Resistance to Mugabe has grown dramatically, as the economic collapse has accelerated and standards of living plummet; inflation is at 1 700%, according to official figures. By saying he will run, Mugabe is expected to set off opposition throughout Zimbabwe, including turmoil within his party. Zanu-PF is divided into three camps over who should succeed him, but several leaders are so determined he must go, they blocked his effort to get his term extended to 2010.

    When "Mugabe's project" was presented at the Zanu-PF conference in December it met unprecedented resistance; it was not sent to Parliament for the needed constitutional amendment, but instead put up for approval by the party's provincial leadership and then the central committee.

    This opposition forced Mugabe to simply stand for another six years. "By saying he'll run for re-election, Mugabe is admitting he failed to extend his term by two years. He is saying 'You don't want to give me two more years? Then I will take six,'" said John Makumbe, politics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

    "The most infuriated people are in his own party. They'll battle him. Mugabe will not enjoy the support he had in the past. We know has lost touch with the people, now he has lost touch with his own party." The situation is seen by the International Crisis Group as "reminiscent of the last stages of Mobutu's reign in the Congo".

    The Mugabe years
    1960 Robert Mugabe, a schoolteacher, becomes active in the African nationalist movement protesting against the white minority Rhodesian government
    1963 Part of a group that founds the Zimbabwe African National Union
    1964 Jailed with other nationalists by the Smith regime. In prison for 10 years
    1975 Secretly crosses to Mozambique where he leads Zanu's armed struggle
    1979 Participates in Lancaster House talks in London leading to new constitution and election
    1980 Wins election and forms government as Zimbabwe's first prime minister
    1983 Sends army to stop rebellion in Matabeleland. Campaign blamed for death of 20 000 civilians.
    2000 Loses referendum for constitution that would have increased his powers. Orders seizures of white-owned farms Zanu-PF narrowly wins elections condemned as marked by violence and rigging.
    2002 Defeats Morgan Tsvangirai to be re-elected president for six-year term. EU and Commonwealth dismiss election as fraudulent - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007, AFP

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