HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said on Friday liberation war veterans would take up arms if he loses a June 27 presidential run-off vote.
Mugabe told youth members of his ruling ZANU-PF party in Harare that the veterans had told him they would launch a new bush war if the election was won by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he accuses of being a puppet of the West.
“They said if this country goes back into white hands just because we have used a pen (to vote), ‘we will return to the bush to fight,'” Mugabe said, ratcheting up the pressure to extend his 28-year-presidency.
Tsvangirai, rights groups and Western powers accuse Mugabe of unleashing a brutal campaign, including using police to harass opponents, to win the run-off. Mugabe and the ZANU-PF lost presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29.
A second ballot, however, is required because Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change leader, fell short of the majority needed to win the presidency outright. He says 66 of his followers have been killed since the March poll.
Zimbabwe’s High Court on Friday ordered police to bring MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti to court on Saturday and justify why he had been arrested at Harare’s airport on Thursday. Biti faces a treason charge that could carry a death sentence.
“The order we got is for him to be brought to court and for the police to show cause why they are holding him,” defense attorney Lewis Uriri said. He said Biti was expected to appear in court at 0800 GMT (4 a.m. EDT) on Saturday.
Former guerrilla commander Mugabe, president since independence from Britain in 1980, blames the MDC for the violence that has caused widespread international concern.
“We cannot allow the British to dominate us here again through their puppets. You saw what they were saying (after the March elections), celebrating an MDC victory,” the 84-year-old ruler said. “These were the whites we took farms from.”
The war veterans, usually acting alongside the ZANU-PF youth militia, have regularly been used to intimidate Mugabe’s opponents and were involved in implementing the government’s seizure of thousands of white-owned farms beginning in 2000.
Some of the seized land was given to the veterans.
Earlier, the MDC said Zimbabwean police impounded two campaign buses used by Tsvangirai, who has been detained four times in the past week and had his own vehicle confiscated. MDC spokesman George Sibotshiwe said the campaign would continue.
The Southern African Development Community, a grouping of 14 nations including Zimbabwe, has sent a team of election monitors to Harare. Observers from Western nations critical of Mugabe’s government are not being allowed into the country.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, once one of the most prosperous in Africa, has collapsed, and shortages of bread, milk and meat are common. Inflation is running at 165,000 percent and unemployment is 80 percent.
U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said the situation was deteriorating rapidly. He called it “very worrying and very serious ... with up to four million people in need of humanitarian assistance”.
Mugabe’s government last week banned foreign aid groups, and a regional rights group said on Friday domestic non-governmental organizations had also been ordered to stop working.
“This government will do anything that it feels is necessary, including the harassment and maybe even the harm to diplomats, to ensure that they stay in power,” James McGee, U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, told reporters in a conference call.
Additional reporting by Cris Chinaka; Writing by Marius Bosch and Paul Simao; Editing by Charles Dick