Assassination fears paralyse Zimbabwe opposition - Emirates24|7

Assassination fears paralyse Zimbabwe opposition


Fears of an assassination plot against Zimbabwe's opposition leader delayed his long-awaited homecoming on Saturday ahead of an election showdown with veteran President Robert Mugabe on June 27.

After more than a month out of the country, Morgan Tsvangirai had been expected back on Saturday, but he switched plans at the last minute after a tip-off about a planned attempt on his life, his party said.

"We received information from a credible source this morning concerning a planned assassination attempt on President Tsvangirai," said Tsvangirai's spokesman George Sibotshiwe.

He was unable to say whether the plot was state-backed and declined to give further details.

Violence has rocked Zimbabwe since a first round of elections in March in which Tsvangirai defeated veteran President Robert Mugabe, with pro-government militias accused of harrassing and killing opposition supporters.

Tsvangirai did not win the first round by enough to secure an outright victory and he had been expected back to begin campaigning ahead of the run-off election scheduled for June 27.

Critics of Tsvangirai say he has lost momentum since his victory in the March ballot and his adversary, Africa's oldest leader, kicked off his campaign for re-election on Saturday.

"I thank you for voting in peace. Vote for RG Mugabe," said an advertisement in The Herald newspaper. In a small box was his campaign theme: "100 per cent total empowerment, independence."

Mugabe, 84, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, lost the first round by 43.2 per cent to 47.9 per cent against Tsvangirai and now is fighting for his survival.

The election process has been marred by delays, violence and allegations of electoral fraud, and economic woes deepen by the day, with official inflation at 165,000 per cent and unemployment at 80 per cent.

Tsvangirai, who had said last weekend he would return within a couple of days, has made a series of demands to ensure a free and fair run-off election, including the presence of foreign peacekeepers and election monitors.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told The Herald on Saturday that "there would be no further invitations" for election monitors despite pressure from Western countries.

No Western monitors were allowed to oversee the first ballot and teams from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) were widely criticised for giving it a largely clean bill of health.

On Friday, an independent home-grown network of monitors that observed the first round said dozens of its activists had since been assaulted by suspected Zanu-PF supporters since the March 29 election.

Speaking Friday, Tsvangirai had promised to return to Zimbabwe to stand in solidarity with his supporters who, according to a raft of reports, have faced intimidation and violence from pro-government militias.

His party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), says at least 32 of its supporters have perished in the violence.

Sibotshiwe added on Saturday that Tsvangirai remained "determined to go home at the nearest opportunity".

Despite numerous reports from human rights and civil society groups in Zimbabwe stating the contrary, Mugabe has accused the MDC of fomenting the post-election violence.

"The MDC and its supporters are playing a very dangerous game," he told leaders of his Zanu-PF party on Friday.

Zimbabwean doctors, unions and teachers have reported a campaign of terror conducted by pro-government militias in rural areas against supporters and activists of the MDC since the March elections.

These reports have been bolstered by human rights group Amnesty International and by the United Nations, whose representative to Zimbabwe said the majority of violence had been directed at MDC supporters.