Opposition leader to face Mugabe in runoff

Times Staff Writer

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced Saturday that he had decided to take part in a runoff election against President Robert Mugabe, saying he believes the vote "could finally knock out a dictator for good."

Tsvangirai had previously ruled out participating in a runoff, saying he had won outright in the disputed March 29 election. But in announcing his decision to return to Zimbabwe, he said that despite risks faced by opposition activists, it would be a betrayal of Zimbabweans not to participate in the second round.

"The people are victorious, and they are being punished for their victory," he said Saturday at a news conference in Pretoria. "We must free ourselves from those who would steal victory from fellow brothers and sisters by using guns, sticks and screwdrivers."

Promising a "victory tour" of his country, he said, "We know a runoff election could finally knock out a dictator for good."

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change won the most parliamentary seats and gained control of parliament with the help of a breakaway MDC faction.

According to official results, Tsvangirai also won the most votes in the presidential race, but fell just short of the 50% plus one vote required to win outright.

The runoff election date has not been announced, but under law it should be held within 21 days of the first election results, which were released a little more than a week ago. Tsvangirai said the vote should be held May 24.

He called on Zimbabwe's security forces, young supporters of the ruling party and war veterans to stop attacking civilians.

"For those carrying out the violence on the ground -- the police, the militia, the army and the so-called war veterans -- now is the time to give very serious thought to the implications of further attacks on innocent civilians. You are breaking Zimbabwean and international law, and the whole world is watching."

Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said Friday that more than 900 people had been treated for injuries from beatings but the actual number was much higher because many had no access to medical care.

In an appeal to the military and security chiefs whom analysts see as holding the key to the nation's future, Tsvangirai said Mugabe had betrayed the 1970s liberation struggle by turning his thugs on the population.

"The time is now for Zimbabwean professional security services to become professional again and to follow their hearts instead of following a former liberation hero on his path to destruction."

Tsvangirai called for regional peacekeepers to prevent further violence, international observers from Africa and the United Nations, and free media access to cover the elections.

He also called for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to be reformed, saying it was biased in favor of the ruling party.



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