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New crackdown ordered on Zimbabwe opposition, ruling party sources say

From a Times Staff Writer

Zimbabwe’s regime plans a renewed crackdown on opposition leaders, lawmakers and activists in coming days, according to ruling party sources.

Despite increasing international pressure on President Robert Mugabe, the sources warned that political violence is likely to intensify.

The crackdown would be aimed at pressuring the opposition to accept a government of national unity led by Mugabe, senior ruling party sources said. The sources asked to remain anonymous because of possible political or security repercussions.

The ruling ZANU-PF party wants to take the dominant role in a unity government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

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Mugabe, clinging to power after 28 years in office and a presidential election rejected as undemocratic by African observers, has demanded that the opposition recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader as a condition to talks.

But the MDC refuses to accept Mugabe as head of any unity government or transitional arrangement, and demands that an additional mediator join negotiations now led by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

In the weeks before the June 27 presidential runoff, ZANU-PF set up 900 youth militia command bases, where MDC supporters were taken and intimidated into voting for the ruling party.

According to one base commander, the new crackdown will be launched from these bases, targeting key opposition members and their assistants.

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Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, withdrew from the presidential runoff because of the intensifying political violence.

He refused last week to meet Mugabe at his residence for fear of appearing to defer to Mugabe and offer him legitimacy.

Mbeki, appointed by the Southern African Development Community as a mediator between the ruling party and the MDC, lost the confidence of the opposition after he said there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.

A senior ruling party source said ZANU-PF youth militias had been primed to attack opposition figures because of the opposition’s refusal to accept Mugabe’s terms for a unity government.

Ruling party operatives “will spontaneously respond to force the MDC to withdraw some of their conditions for the talks” on a unity government, the source said.

“It will happen as if the top office doesn’t know, but the word has been sent out that this is how they’re expected to respond.”

The MDC says 100 activists have been killed since the first round of presidential voting March 29. Hundreds are missing, presumed dead or in jail.

ZANU-PF officials believe that a unity arrangement would restore legitimacy to the government and win back the confidence of investors.

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The MDC, which won the most parliamentary seats and says that it won the presidential vote, is calling for a transitional arrangement leading to democratic elections.


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