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Latest update : 2008-06-06

Mugabe's regime has detained opposition leaders and foreign diplomats in Zimbabwe, and suspended activities of humanitarian organisations.

The situation in Zimbabwe is becoming more lawless by the day, with President Robert Mugabe’s regime sending signs of growing desperation ahead of the June 27 run-off elections.

Police took opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into custody briefly on Friday for the second time in a week, his Movement for Democratic Change party said. Arrested on his way to a campaign rally in the south of the country, the opposition leader was released a few hours later.

“It’s difficult to imagine what charges could be brought against him,” says Alex Duval Smith, FRANCE 24 correspondent in South Africa. “They want to keep him out of the public eye."

The arrest comes just a day after the government moved to indefinitely suspend all field operations by relief groups. This decision, condemned unanimously abroad, shows a regime attempting to tighten its grip on the population by controlling the population’s access to food supplies.

“Mugabe is using food as an electoral weapon,” says Alex Duval Smith, France 24 correspondent in South Africa.


A state-orchestrated intimidation campaign

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga confirmed to AFP on Friday that NGOs wishing to operate in the country would now have to reapply for accreditation and promise not to interfere in domestic politics.

The ruling party, ZANU-PF, doesn’t want non-governmental organizations in the field where the opposition is strong, explains Caroline Dumay, another France 24 correspondent in South Africa. “ZANU-PF controls access to food aid. Only his supporters are entitled to food distribution.”

The ZANU-PF campaign of intimidation is sparing no one.

British and US diplomats were arrested at gunpoint on Thursday while visiting the home of supporters of the opposition, raising yet more doubt about the possibility that the presidential run-off scheduled for June 27 will be free and fair.

According to the Movement for Democratic Change, around 60 of its supporters have been killed by pro-Mugabe militias in the build-up to the run-off. It says the police banned several planned rallies because authorities could not guarantee the safety of party leaders.



Are elections worth the price of a life?

Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN humanitarian affairs bureau OCHA, warned that its programmes would be hit by the ban on NGOs, adding that it is the "population that suffers" from disruptions in humanitarian aid delivery".

At a recent rally, President Mugabe told the crowd that he had ordered 600,000 tons of maize meal, fuelling speculations that the ZANU-PF thinks it can buy votes by distributing food, Duval Smith reported.

Up to four million Zimbabweans could be dependent on food aid in a country that was once the breadbasket of Africa. Critics say the chronic food shortages are the result of the brutal land reform carried out in 2000, while Mugabe blames climatic conditions and Western sanctions.

A senior Western diplomat told UK newspaper The Independent that Zimbabwe was now being run by the equivalent of a military Junta.

The June 27 ballot is now at stake, says France 24’s Duval Smith: “Is it worth the price of people losing their homes and their lives for the sake of an election that looks increasingly like it won’t be free or fair?”

Date created : 2008-06-06

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