Opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai returned to his homeland Saturday, stopping first to visit hospitalized supporters who had been targeted in an onslaught of state-sponsored violence.
He then called on autocratic President Robert Mugabe to "set his people free from poverty, hunger and fear" by stepping down.
Tsvangirai, who had been out of Zimbabwe for six weeks after national elections, planned to return a week ago but decided against it after his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said he was the target of a military assassination plot. The former union leader has survived at least three assassination attempts.
He arrived Saturday at the main airport in Harare with little fanfare and then sped off to a hospital in the capital where victims of political violence were being treated.
"I return home to Zimbabwe with a sad heart," he told reporters after the hospital visit. "I have met and listened to the stories of the innocent people targeted by a regime seemingly desperate to cling to power."
Tsvangirai faces a presidential runoff against Mugabe on June 27. Independent human rights groups say opposition supporters have been beaten and killed by ruling party thugs to ensure that the 84-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it gained independence from Britain in 1980, wins the second round.
"Mugabe once led our people to freedom," Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare. "He can even now set his people free from poverty, hunger and fear" by leaving office, he said.