, , , , , , ,

Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai


Police raid party HQ in Zimbabwe

Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The arrests of Zimbabweans gathered to discuss what they could learn from uprisings in North Africa drew international condemnation. They turned out to be just the start of harassment of people
hardline supporters of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe consider enemies.

A key aide to Morgan Tsvangirai – Mugabe’s rival and partner in an uneasy coalition – was arrested on corruption charges. The offices of Tsvangirai’s party have been raided, and members arrested. An independent civic group
leader was detained for several hours over the weekend for possessing T-shirts police claimed were intended to incite opposition to Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.

Tsvangirai threatened last week to leave the coalition, and some are wondering how much more he can take. Bringing down the coalition could mean elections for which Tsvangirai’s party and international observers say Zimbabwe is not ready.

John Makumbe, a political scientist at Zimbabwe’s main university, said Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party want Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change to quit the fragile two-year-old coalition. That way, they could return to one-party control – and place the blame on Tsvangirai.

“They want to tell Africa and the region Tsvangirai’s people don’t know how to behave in government positions and they are the spoilers,” Makumbe said.

Tsvangirai has grown frustrated enough with Mugabe in the past to have briefly suspended his participation in the government. But it is clear he does not want to play into Mugabe’s hands, and that he believes he can do more for Zimbabweans from the inside. The economy, health and education have improved since he joined the coalition, even if political violence and international isolation have not.

On Tuesday, a judge ordered the release on $5,000 bail of Energy Minister Elton Mangoma, a founder of Tsvangirai’s party. Mangoma spent five nights in Harare’s notoriously cramped and filthy prison after plainclothes police took him from his ministerial offices.

He is charged with abuse of public office over a January deal to buy gasoline from neighboring South Africa to ease regular fuel shortages in  Zimbabwe.

The corruption allegations carry a possible penalty of a fine or imprisonment of up to 15 years.

Mangoma denies wrongdoing. In granting bail, the judge told the prosecutor the minister’s fuel deal appeared to be a response to national fuel shortages and no evidence had so far been given that he personally gained money from it.

Small clusters of Tsvangirai supporters clapped and cheered inside the Harare High Court as Mangoma, dressed in a khaki prison uniform and looking drawn, was released and ordered to reappear for trial March 28.

Also Tuesday, Tsvangirai’s party said 30 police “besieged” its headquarters and arrested three staff members late Sunday.

Nelson Chamisa, a party spokesman, said efforts were still being made to find why police took away a youth leader and two security guards taken away while on duty at the downtown headquarters. “No charges have yet been leveled against them,” he said.

In addition, Tsvangirai’s party said two of its lawmakers were arrested in the past week for alleged threatening behavior toward a Mugabe party provincial leader.

The Crisis Coalition, an alliance of independent civic groups, said Tuesday its chief coordinator was detained by police for several hours on Saturday for possessing the suspect T-shirts.

The crackdown began when activists gathered Feb. 19 to watch footage of North African protests at what organizers said was an academic discussion on people’s rights to democratic freedoms. Police swept in and arrested scores, most of whom were later freed. Of the group, a former opposition lawmaker and five other activists are facing treason charges punishable by death on allegations they were meeting to “organize, strategize and implement the removal of the constitutional government … the Egyptian way.”

Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a possible successor to the ailing Mugabe, 87, has warned that any mass uprising against Mugabe would be “crushed.”

Military analyst Michael Quintana described the appearance of convoys of armored cars, anti-riot trucks and water canon in the capital in the last month as a show of force by Mugabe’s military.

The French-made armored cars, delivered before an arms embargo was imposed a decade ago, are fitted with machine gun turrets and carry up to a dozen combat troops. The vehicles that fanned out into Harare’s township suburbs are well equipped and maintained, he said.

“It is a clear signal of the army’s ability to mobilize quickly and get out onto the streets,” Quintana said.

Angus Shaw in Harare contributed to this report.