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Opposition in Zimbabwe Mounts, Says U.S. Diplomat
New York Times
March 21, 2007

JOHANNESBURG - The American ambassador to Zimbabwe said Tuesday that opposition to President Robert G. Mugabe had reached a tipping point because the people no longer feared the government and believed that they had nothing left to lose.

Zimbabwe's government and ruling party are in disarray and can no longer govern effectively, Ambassador Christopher Dell said in an interview. Growing numbers within the government and the ruling party, known as ZANU-PF, also want Mr. Mugabe to step down, he said.

Mr. Dell emphasized that he was not advocating or predicting a violent overthrow of the government, but noted that there was disaffection within the military and a split in the security forces. The economy is in free fall and the people believe that the government is taking away their last hope, he said.

"The key new element in the equation that has become obvious over the past 10 to 12 days is the new spirit of resistance - some would say defiance - on the part of the people," the ambassador said.

"The people have lost their willingness to go on; they are losing their fear," he added. "They believe they have nothing left to lose."

Mr. Mugabe's government has come under increasing international criticism for its treatment of the opposition, with activists contending that the police have disrupted their gatherings and beaten their leaders. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was among those assaulted on March 11, when the police broke up what his supporters said was a prayer meeting.

The Movement for Democratic Change, led by Mr. Tsvangirai, reported new abuses on Tuesday, saying 35 of its supporters were hospitalized from beatings by ruling party youths and state agents patrolling townships in unmarked vehicles.

"We have urged other African governments to speak out more strongly, and some of them have," Mr. Dell said. "The one thing you will notice is none of them are speaking up in Mugabe's defense anymore. There is a kind of embarrassed silence in the region now."

South Africa issued its strongest criticism of Zimbabwe to date on Tuesday, but said it would stick to its policy of quiet diplomacy because open criticism had yielded no results.

"The beating and violence against any citizens of Zimbabwe is obviously unacceptable to us as a government," said Themba Maseko, a South African government spokesman.

In Zimbabwe, Mr. Tsvangirai met with South Africa's ambassador on Tuesday to protest the silence of African leaders.

Mr. Tsvangirai said the silence made a "complete mockery" of South Africa's abolition of apartheid and its transition to democracy, the opposition said in a statement.

President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who will take over the presidency of the 13-nation Southern African Development Community in August, said Tuesday that he hoped the bloc would develop a common stance on the crisis in the coming days.

Mr. Dell said the violence directed against Zimbabweans by the government was causing a split in the security forces, adding that rank-and-file police officers were increasingly reluctant to carry out such attacks.

He said the police themselves were telling leaders of the opposition who were arrested and beaten while in custody that the attacks had been carried out by Mr. Mugabe's secret police and the Green Bombers, the ruling party's militant youth militia.

"Police are trying to distance themselves from the repression," Mr. Dell said. "Police officers feel insecure. We are told some are afraid to wear their uniforms back and forth to work." He noted that most police officers lived in the poor, high-density suburbs of Harare, the capital, and were afraid of reprisals from their neighbors.

Mr. Mugabe, he said, has always ruled with a combination of repression and patronage. But with a collapsing economy, he can no longer provide adequate patronage. Mr. Dell said a regular police officer made only about $20 a month and is also suffering from the economic woes.

In the past eight weeks, the Zimbabwe dollar has fallen to 20,000 from 5,000 to the American dollar on the black market, he said.

Tensions within ZANU-PF are rising, Mr. Dell added, largely because of the impending succession question. Mr. Mugabe, 83, has indicated that he might run for another term next year, but many in the party want him to step down now, and there is fighting over who will succeed him, Mr. Dell said.

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