Zimbabwe opposition office raided, 60 arrested

June 24th, 2008 - 12:16 am ICT by IANS  

Harare/Johannesburg, June 23 (DPA) Riot police in Zimbabwe raided the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Monday, arresting about 60 people, all of them victims of political violence who had fled their homes, the party said. Most of those arrested were women and children, said party spokesman Nelson Chamisa, adding that the police also took away computers and furniture.

The raid was the first direct assault against the MDC since its president, Morgan Tsvangirai, announced Sunday that he was withdrawing from the country’s presidential run-off elections because of violence and rigging.

Since the wave of violence began immediately after first round elections March 29, thousands of victims have streamed to the Harvest House building in central Harare where the MDC headquarters is located.

“We were in the process of moving them out,” said MDC welfare official Kerry Kay. “A few weeks ago we had nearly 2,000 there, but it was absolute chaos, with ablutions and feeding, so we decided they had to go.

“We gave them bus fare and food and asked them either to go back home or to stay with relatives or friends.”

The party headquarters has been a regular target for police and militias of President Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party over the last five years. Senior MDC officials have kept away increasingly because of the likelihood of arrest and disruption.

According to the Dutch newswire ANP, Morgan Tsvangirai himself spent the night in the refuge of the Dutch embassy in Harare.

The MDC had asked the embassy Sunday if Tsvangirai would be welcome, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen confirmed to ANP. The opposition leader then arrived at the premises Sunday and spent the night there.

“He has temporarily sought refuge with us to ensure his personal safety,” Verhagen said. “He is still deliberating what steps to take next.”

Meanwhile, residents in the eastern town of Rusape said hundreds of ZANU(PF) militiamen Monday were forcing people out of their homes and beating them, to drive them to a rally due to be addressed by Mugabe. “Everyone had to go. The whole town was just about empty,” said one who asked not to be named.

Despite the withdrawal of the leading candidate Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe state radio said Monday that run-off presidential election will go ahead Friday.

It quoted George Chiweshe, chairman of the state-run Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, as saying that the organisation was “going ahead with preparations for the election … as Tsvangirai has not made any of the required notification” of his withdrawal.

“The conditions as of today do not allow the holding of a credible election,” Tsvangirai announced Sunday. “We cannot ask (MDC supporters) to vote for us June 27 when it may cost them their lives.”

Independently compiled medical records show that 85 people have been murdered and at least 3,000 have had to be treated in hospital for injuries caused by assaults since the violence began two days after the first round of voting March 29, while Tsvangirai says 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

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