Zimbabwe opposition leader says party reluctant to take part in a presidential runoff

Sunday, April 6, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called Saturday on President Robert Mugabe to step down and accused the country's longtime ruler of plotting a campaign of violence to bolster his chances of winning an expected runoff.

Amid increasing signs of a government crackdown, armed police barred opposition officials from filing a suit demanding the publication of the results from the March 29 presidential election. The opposition promised to try again today.

"Mugabe must accept that the country needs to move forward. He cannot hold the country to ransom. He is the problem not the solution," said Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change.

He accused ZANU-PF, the ruling party, of "preparing a war against the people," and said a runoff was unnecessary because he had won the presidential election outright.

"In the runoff, violence will be the weapon. It is therefore unfair and unreasonable for President Mugabe to call a runoff," he said, accusing Mugabe of mobilizing armed militias.

Tsvangirai's party claims he won 50.3 percent of the vote, but independent projections have shown that he won the most votes but not the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright victory.

Deputy information minister Bright Matonga dismissed the fears of violence as "a lot of nonsense." "Zimbabwe held a very peaceful election. There was no violence. nobody was killed," he told Sky Television.

On Friday, feared war veterans -- used in the past to beat up opponents -- marched through the capital. Opposition party offices also have been raided and armed police in full riot gear have detained foreign journalists.

Mugabe, 84, has ruled here since his guerrilla army helped overthrow white minority rule in 1980. His popularity has been battered by an economic collapse following the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms since 2000. A third of the population has fled the country and 80 percent are jobless. Inflation is raging at more than 100,000 percent.

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