Tsvangirai says Mugabe wants to decimate opposition

HARARE Sat May 24, 2008 10:51am EDT

1 of 3. Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai (R) visits a party member who is a victim of post election political violence at a hospital in the capital Harare May 24, 2008. Tsvangirai has been travelling abroad since April 8 on a diplomatic drive to pressure Mugabe to surrender power following a March 29 presidential poll, which he says he won outright.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe on Saturday for an election run-off with President Robert Mugabe and said the veteran leader wanted to "decimate" MDC structures.

Tsvangirai arrived at Harare airport aboard a regular South African Airways flight around 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 GMT) after cancelling his homecoming a week ago after his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it had learnt he was the target of a military intelligence assassination plot.

The government dismissed the plot as a propaganda stunt.

Tsvangirai told a news conference that Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party had launched a concerted campaign against the MDC, which has seen 42 people killed and tens of thousands displaced.

"ZANU-PF wants to decimate MDC structures," Tsvangirai said, adding that many opposition officials were in hiding.

He said he was confident of victory, although conditions are not conducive for a free and fair election and ZANU-PF was trying to destroy his MDC before the run-off.

"The conditions on the ground for a run-off are not perfect, and will never be perfect. But we are saying with the support of SADC (Southern African Development Community), putting in election observers and peacekeepers, we can instill confidence in the people of Zimbabwe".

The MDC chief was cheered by party officials at the news conference when he vowed to knock out Mugabe in the second round, saying he was drawing fresh inspiration from victims of political violence:

"I was in the hospital today, people with scars, wounds, all saying: 'President, we will finish him off, don't let us down'."

Tsvangirai has been traveling abroad since April 8 on a diplomatic drive to pressure Mugabe to surrender power following a March 29 presidential poll, which he says he won outright.

But Zimbabwe's electoral commission says he did not get enough votes for a straight victory and must face Mugabe in a June 27 run-off.

PEACEKEEPERS

Tsvangirai said the regional SADC will hold a meeting on the run-off vote next Tuesday at which sending regional peacekeepers to Zimbabwe will be discussed.

"But I told them that by the 1st of June they should put these people on the ground otherwise we don't need them. You can't have peacekeepers and observers two weeks before an election because they will not be of any benefit. What we want is a complete demilitarization of the situation," he added.

SADC, which is due to monitor the run-off, said this month that conditions were neither safe nor fair yet for a fresh vote.

Zimbabweans hope the run-off will start recovery from an economic collapse that has brought 165,000 percent inflation, 80 percent unemployment, chronic food and fuel shortages and has sent millions fleeing to nearby countries.

The MDC has vowed to "bury" Mugabe in the run-off, ending his uninterrupted rule since independence from Britain in 1980.

But the 84-year-old veteran leader has also vowed that he will win the June 27 poll because his ZANU-PF could not afford to lose power to an opposition backed by "white imperialists."

Mugabe says the MDC enjoys the backing of Western powers out to oust him over his seizure of white-owned farms to give to landless blacks. The MDC denies the charge.

Mugabe's party lost control of parliament on March 29 for the first time since it came to power, and the opposition says the former guerrilla leader can only win the June 27 re-run through violence and rigging votes.

"If Mugabe thinks he has beaten people into submission, he will have a rude shock on the 27th," Tsvangirai said.

A 30-year-old man, in a small crowd of people who saw Tsvangirai's convoy arriving at a city hotel for the news conference, said he was happy the MDC leader had returned home.

"I don't think he should have stayed away for so long, but I think MDC supporters will support him, and I hope he wins," said the man, who declined to give his name.

(Reporting by Cris Chinaka; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Peter Millership)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)

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