Mugabe supporters threaten MDC rally
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Opposition party MDC accused President Robert Mugabe's supporters of beating people at an oppostion rally, Reuters reported, as the MDC debates whether it should contest next week's run-off vote. (Report: A.Duval-Smith)
Zimbabwe's main opposition party met Sunday to debate whether to contest this week's run-off amid rising violence and warnings from President Robert Mugabe that he will fight to keep them out of power.
The meeting, which included Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, began early Sunday and came ahead of the party's main pre-election rally set to be held in the capital Harare later in the day.
"The (party's) national council needs to take stock about the prevailing situation vis-a-vis the run-off which is going to take place on Friday," an MDC source said on condition of anonymity.
"There is going to be serious debate. There is going to be divided opinion on whether to participate in the run-off or not."
The source added that he was unsure whether a resolution would be reached.
The MDC has shown signs of deep divisions in recent days on whether to contest the vote amid violence it claims has left some 70 supporters dead since the first round of the poll on March 29.
Earlier this month, Tsvangirai said 200 people were unaccounted for and a further 3,000 had been hospitalised.
The party has also faced major obstacles in seeking to campaign, including Tsvangirai being detained five times and the party's number two leader, Tendai Biti, in jail on subversion and vote-rigging charges and facing the death penalty.
Despite that, the party's secretary for legal affairs Innocent Gonese has told AFP that "withdrawing will not solve anything."
MDC treasurer general Roy Bennett has described suggestions of pulling out of the race as "nonsense."
An opposition decision to pull out would likely hand victory to Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe has threatened to arrest opposition leaders over the violence, though the UN has said his supporters were to blame of the bulk of it.
The veteran leader has remained defiant in the face of criticism over conditions ahead of the vote, vowing the opposition will never come to power in his lifetime and pledging to fight to keep it from happening.
On Friday, the 84-year-old president said "only God" could remove him from office.
The MDC was to hold its main pre-election rally on Sunday in Harare after a court overturned a police ban on it the previous day.
Early Sunday, about 200 young people, including some wearing ruling party ZANU-PF shirts, were seen near the field where the rally was to be held, though the atmosphere was calm. There were no police officers in the area.
Meanwhile a South African mediation team was in Zimbabwe this weekend as part of efforts to resolve the country's political crisis.
The visit came with South African President Thabo Mbeki reportedly seeking to have the run-off cancelled in favour of talks on forming a national unity government.
Mbeki has been appointed mediator for Zimbabwe by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, though he has faced criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach.
Tsvangirai, in a message to supporters on Saturday, said "no one has the right" to cancel the election.
"But as we know, the regime is trying to make the situation on the ground so terrible that they hope the runoff election -- an election they will lose -- will be cancelled," he said.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the March first round of the vote, but with an official vote total just short of an outright majority.
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