Zimbabwe opposition calls general strike

Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party called a general strike to force publication of the March 29 election results, calling for President Robert Mugabe to quit, as he snubbed Saturday's crisis summit of southern African leaders. Alex Duval Smith reports.


President Robert Mugabe will boycott a southern African summit on the Zimbabwe crisis, state radio said Friday as the opposition called a general strike to press for the release of election results.

Mugabe signalled a further clampdown in the country with a ban on all political rallies. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called on the 84-year-old president to stand down.

Mugabe, under pressure since the March 29 election which the opposition insists it won, will be represented at the summit in Zambia by four senior ministers, state radio said.

The 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) called the summit in a bid to mediate with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose leader, Tsvangirai, has confirmed he will be in Lusaka.

Tsvangirai called on Mugabe to quit and appealed to the summit participants to ensure democracy prevails in Zimbabwe.

"He should recognise that he has lost and let me get on with making our great country great once more," Tsvangirai said in a statement.

"This is an historic moment for SADC and a defining moment for Africa. We can show the world that we, Africa, can solve our own problems and safeguard democracy and the rule of law," Tsvangirai said.

The sense of crisis in the country, which has an estimated 100,000 percent inflation and is stricken by grave economic problems, increased as the government banned all political rallies.

"We see no reason for rallies since we have had elections," police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told AFP.

The MDC also accused the Mugabe government of stepping up a crackdown by arresting a lawyer for simply demanding the release of a helicopter hired by Tsvangirai for his presidential campaign.

The helicopter had been confiscated by police and the pilot, a South African national, was detained on March 25 for alleged fraud and immigration transgressions. He spent nine days behind bars before being freed.

"As a party we feel this is a sustained effort on the part of the authorities against people who assist the MDC," spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

"This is an onslaught which is not only happening in the rural areas, but even in the civil service as people who are perceived MDC supporters are being intimidated."

The MDC issued pamphlets calling for a general strike to be launched on Tuesday until the presidential election result is announced.

"We call upon transporters, workers, vendors and everyone to stay at home the power is in our hands. Zimbabweans have been taken for granted for too long. We demand that the presidential election results be announced now."

Amid mounting calls from international powers for the release of the election results, Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has said there must be a run-off.

The opposition has ruled out Tsvangirai's participation in any second-round vote, accusing Mugabe of launching a campaign of intimidation that would affect the true democratic result.

"The military leaders in the establishment are trying to subvert the will of the people," Tsvangirai said this week.

"This is, in a sense, a de facto military coup. They have rolled out military forces across the whole country, to prepare for a run-off and try to cow the population. It's an attempt to try to create conditions for Mugabe to win."

Tsvangirai met Thursday in Pretoria with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, officials said.

Mbeki, the regional heayweight, has come under fire for failing to condemn the long delay in announcing the presidential poll result.

"The meeting went well. The details of it are not at this stage for public consumption," MDC spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo told AFP, giving the first news of the meeting on Friday.

A legal bid by the opposition to force Zimbabwe's electoral commission to declare the result is still under consideration by a judge and no decision on the matter is expected until Monday, at the earliest.

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