Zimbabwe riot police swoop on opposition HQ
Harvest House in downtown Harare had become a refuge for Zimbabwean opposition supporters who were fleeing violence meted out by the henchmen of President Robert Mugabe.
Yesterday armed riot police swooped on the building, rounding up 300 people – including pregnant women and mothers with small children – in the biggest crackdown on the Movement for Democratic Change since last month's disputed elections.
Four weeks after casting their votes, Zimbabweans are still awaiting the official result of the presidential poll, which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he has won. As the delay gets longer and longer, so fears grow that a country already in the middle of an economic collapse may be about to witness more bloodshed as Mr Mugabe desperately plots how to keep power.
The MDC says at least 10 of its supporters have already been killed in a campaign of retribution being waged against those who dared not to vote for Mugabe. Thousands of others are believed to have fled their homes, like those who ended up in Harvest House.
"These armed police have taken hundreds of people that were now staying at the party headquarters running away from the different parts of Zimbabwe where the regime has been unleashing brutal violence," the MDC said in a statement after yesterday's raid.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters: "They took everyone in the building, including those who had come just to seek medical care."
But the police shrugged off those allegations, saying they had been searching for the perpetrators of crimes committed outside Harare, including a series of firebombings in a rural area of Mashonaland East – attacks which were given featured prominently in The Herald newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Mugabe regime.
"We do know that too many people have taken shelter at the MDC offices and we suspect some of them have committed arson attacks in rural areas and have come to hide in some safe houses," said a police spokesman. "We have just taken all of them.
"We believe that some of the suspects may be among these people so we are screening them."
The local election observer group, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), said police had also raided their offices, ransacking files. Based on its own surveys of tallies posted outside individual polling stations, ZESN also believes Mr Tsvangirai won the election. Mr Kututwa said the police had wanted to arrest him and his deputy but that both had been away.
He said that they were in hiding and accused the authorities of trying to intimidate the group so it would be too weak to monitor a possible run-off vote.
As Mr Mugabe toured the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in the southern city of Bulawayo, Mr Tsvangirai was meeting the top US diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. Ms Frazer has already said the Zimbabwean opposition leader was the "clear victor ... perhaps outright" in the elections on 29 March. After their meeting in South Africa, the US embassy said: "They agreed that, given the long delay, any results will have limited credibility at this point."
"We assured the MDC that we would look at additional international action to address, and bring attention to, the evolving human rights and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe," Ms Frazer said in a statement.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has said it cannot release the presidential results until it has completed a recount of the parliamentary votes in 23 of the 210 constituencies.