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Tsvangirai quits because 'votes would cost lives'

Latest update : 2008-06-22

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai confirmed his decision to quit the race before the June 27 run-off election, urging the UN and African Union to 'intervene and stop the genocide.'

Hear Zimbabwe's grim inside story from FRANCE 24 correspondents A. Duval Smith and E. Jongwe in their report 'Trapped in a Harare nightmare'.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai quit Zimbabwe's run-off election Sunday, saying violence had made a fair vote impossible, in a move that virtually hands victory to President Robert Mugabe.

"We will no longer participate in the violent illegitimate sham of an election process," Tsvangirai, 56, told reporters at his home, saying he could not ask supporters to cast ballots "when that vote would cost them their lives."

The opposition chief said Mugabe had "declared war by saying that the bullet has replaced the ballot", referring to the president's earlier threats to fight to keep the opposition out of power.

"We believe an election that reflects the will of the people is impossible," he said, as he appealed to the United Nations, African Union and regional body SADC to "intervene and stop the genocide".

Tsvangirai added he would announce a decision on his next moves on Wednesday -- leaving open the possibility, however slight, that he could change his mind.

The move brought a dramatic end to a presidential campaign that had been marred by allegations of brutal violence, with the opposition accusing government backers of terrorising its supporters.

It also almost certainly handed victory by default to Mugabe, 84, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and, according to critics, presided over its decline.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said Tsvangirai had quit the presidential run-off election "to avoid a humiliating defeat" and that he "had no other option."

"He is aware that they did not do enough preparations and spent a lot of time outside the country meeting people who do not matter," said party spokesman Patrick Chinamasa. Tsvangirai spent some six weeks outside Zimbabwe following the first round of the vote in March.

International reaction was switft and harshly critical of Mugabe, with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband saying the country would lack "legitimate" leadership if Mugabe stayed in charge.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner branded Mugabe a "crook and a murderer", while White House spokesman Carlton Carroll said "the government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now."

Criticism also came from the region, with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, current chair of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, saying it was "scandalous for SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe".

The regional bloc has faced criticism over its failure to take action against the Zimbabwean leader.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the regionally appointed mediator for the crisis, may now be confronted with more pressure to find a resolution.

His spokesman told AFP South Africa would "encourage the political leadership in Zimbabwe to continue work to find a solution to the political challenges."

Tsvangirai said Sunday that Mbeki had made no proposal to him about a national unity government that could have lifted Zimbabwe out of its crisis.

"You can't say President Mbeki is going to propose a government of national unity when it has not been put to us," Tsvangirai said.

The approach to the run-off had been tense, with the MDC saying more than 80 of its supporters had been killed and thousands injured.

They also claim more than 20,000 homes had been destroyed, with 200,000 people internally displaced.

Tsvangirai called it an "orgy of violence."

The opposition leader made his announcement after hundreds of stick-wielding youths gathered Sunday at the venue of his party's main pre-election rally, and following an MDC meeting to decide whether to withdraw from the election.

Up to 1,000 youths gathered at the rally grounds in the capital Harare before moving on to the nearby headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, witnesses and AFP journalists said.

Police officers and election observers had taken up positions nearby.

Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the March first round of the vote -- and the ruling party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence.

But official results showed the MDC leader failed to achieve an outright majority of votes needed to become head of state without a run-off.

Tsvangirai had said he would participate in the run-off under protest since he claimed to have crossed the 50 percent threshold in the first round.

Some Zimbabweans reacted to the decision to withdraw with relief, saying it would save lives, while others feared more pain.

Patrick Madzvimbo, a property manager in the capital, doubted the violence would end.

"We are in trouble. Just wait until that old man speaks," he said, referring to Mugabe.

Mugabe is accused by critics of leading the once model economy to ruin and trampling on human rights. The country has the world's highest inflation rate and is experiencing major food shortages.

The MDC met major obstacles while campaigning. Tsvangirai was detained five times and the party's number two, Tendai Biti, is in jail on subversion and vote-rigging charges and faces the death penalty.

Mugabe has threatened to arrest opposition leaders over the violence, though the United Nations has said supporters of the president were to blame for the bulk of the bloodshed and unrest.

The veteran leader has remained defiant in the face of criticism over conditions ahead of the vote. On Friday he said "only God" could remove him from office.


Date created : 2008-06-22