May 27, 2008 / 12:34 PM / 12 years ago

Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai says 50 killed in poll violence

HARARE (Reuters) - More than 50 people have been killed in political violence since Zimbabwe’s disputed March 29 elections and 25,000 have fled their homes, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai addresses supporters in Harare May 27, 2008. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Official figures showed Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe in the election, but did not garner enough votes to avoid a second round poll, which has been set for June 27.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change accuses the ruling ZANU-PF party of launching a violent campaign against its supporters since the March elections to avoid another defeat next month. The ruling party denies the charge, and in turn blames the opposition for the violence.

“Over 50 Zimbabweans have been killed in the past six weeks. More than 25,000 people have been displaced. I’ve been saddened that Zimbabweans are willing to shed the blood of other Zimbabweans over political differences,” Tsvangirai said.

“We are proceeding to compile the names of those who’ve committed these crimes. We will approach the attorney general to do something about it. I don’t believe that anyone who has murdered someone should be forgiven,” he told journalists.

Tsvangirai said he was launching a 150 trillion Zimbabwean dollar ($300,000) fund for victims of political violence, to be run by representatives from churches and rights groups.

The MDC, which ended the ruling party’s long-standing majority in parliament in a parallel vote on March 29, says police have taken sides with ZANU-PF supporters when dealing with cases of political violence.

State television reported that newly-elected MDC MP Ian Kay appeared in court on Tuesday on charges of political violence, and was remanded in custody to June 11 after the state overturned his Z$20 billion bail.

In an apparent show of support for Mugabe on Tuesday, police chief Augustine Chihuri said the force had a duty to defend the country from what he called a threat from foreign powers and their local puppets.

FOREIGN STOOGE

Mugabe frequently accuses the MDC of being a stooge of former colonial power Britain and other Western governments he says want to oust him over his seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

“The nation is presently facing a myriad of challenges and machinations by external forces and their internal sympathizers, who I normally call puppets,” Chihuri said.

“Its very existence and survival is threatened by these puppets and their handlers,” he added, after conferring ranks on police officers in Harare.

On Tuesday the government said it would spend quadrillions of Zimbabwean dollars on social programs ahead of the June 27 election in what the MDC called vote buying.

Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said the government would offer tax relief, higher public service wages and food vouchers to ease pressure on Zimbabweans grappling with an economic meltdown under inflation of 165,000 percent.

The government will also provide Z$4.2 quadrillion in health and education assistance to the poor.

“This regime is clutching at straws, they hope to avert their burial on June 27 by hook or crook. They are offering a carrot and stick; a carrot for those who fall for their vote-buying and a big stick for those who resist,” said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

Mugabe often accuses privately-owned Zimbabwean media and foreign media of waging a propaganda campaign against his government, and police have arrested several journalists covering events around the election.

On Tuesday, state television reported police had arrested three South Africans carrying broadcasting equipment at a roadblock in the southwestern district of Esigodini last Friday.

“They were unable to account properly how they got in possession of that property. The equipment suggests these people could be running a studio because all the gadgets are labeled Sky News,” a police spokesman said on ZBC television.

He said the men would be charged under Zimbabwe’s Broadcasting Act and tough media laws that critics say are aimed at stifling dissent against Mugabe.

A spokeswoman at Sky News in London told Reuters: “We’re investigating the reports at the moment.”

Slideshow (2 Images)

On Tuesday, Chihuri echoed Mugabe’s campaign theme for the June 27 run-off, saying it was “instructive for all Zimbabweans to be clear in their understanding of what 100 percent empowerment and total independence means.

“(It) means revamping and overhauling the existing system in the manufacturing and mining sectors as was done in the agricultural sector,” he said, alluding to the white farm seizures and plans to nationalize foreign-owned mines and other businesses.

Additional reporting by Nelson Banya; Katherine Baldwin in London; editing by Richard Williams

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