Police raid Zimbabwe opposition headquarters

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe's opposition leader took refuge in the Dutch Embassy after pulling out of the presidential runoff, and dozens of his supporters were hustled away by police in a raid on party headquarters Monday.

Western powers outraged at the turmoil began pushing Monday for the U.N. Security Council to condemn the violence and insist on a fair presidential election. They expected opposition from Zimbabwe's two biggest trading partners, South Africa and China.

A tense debate gripped the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. and European nations pushed a toughly worded draft statement condemning a "campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition" that have made it "impossible for a free and fair election to take place" Friday.

"There has been too much violence, too much intimidation," Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said at a brief news conference, and a runoff "would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible."

Despite the international condemnation, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe pledged to press ahead with Friday's vote.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe a month ago to campaign, despite warnings by his Movement for Democratic Change party that he was the target of a state-sponsored assassination plot.

Since then, his top deputy has been arrested on treason charges -- which carry the death penalty -- and Tsvangirai has repeatedly been detained by police. His supporters have faced such violence that the opposition leader said Sunday he could not run.

Dutch officials said Monday that Tsvangirai sought shelter in their embassy in Harare following his announcement Sunday that he was withdrawing from the runoff, but said he did not ask for political asylum.

Tsvangirai "asked if the Dutch Embassy could provide him with refuge because he was feeling unsafe," Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said.

Even before Tsvangirai's actions, some African leaders had begun to offer uncharacteristic criticism of Mugabe, an 84-year-old liberation hero whose defiant anti-Western rhetoric long resonated in a region with a bitter colonial past.

Tsvangirai's decision to pull out of the runoff and take refuge in a Western embassy may have been aimed at forcing his African neighbors to take a strong stand.

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