Tsvangirai campaign rallies banned in Zimbabwe

Friday, June 6, 2008

Police in Zimbabwe have stopped opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC) en route to a campaign rally. His convoy was then escorted to a police station in Esigodini.

"Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders were detained again in Umzingwane. They are being taken to Esigodini police station," said MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

Wayne Bvudzijena, a spokesman for the police, said that he was not aware of this incident, but added that roadblocks are used by the police to conduct weapons searches. "Tsvangirai and his convoy are not immune to search," he said. "They can be searched at any roadblock they pass."

Afterwards, the government banned political rallies in support of Tsvangirai, effectively ending his campaigning. Officials said the decision was made to protect the safety of Tsvangirai and MDC party leaders.

George Sibotshiwe, a spokesperson for Tsvangirai, called the ban "a clear indication that the regime will do everything necessary to remain in power," and said its justification was "nonsense."

Earlier today, Tsvangirai was prevented from attending a rally at a mine near Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo, when police blocked the road.

"One of our leading vehicles was stopped, then the rest of us were stopped as well. We tried to get an explanation from the police and they said we should have told them in advance that Mr Tsvangirai was going to visit," said Lovemore Moyo, MDC chairman, to AFP. "They then turned us back and we had to use a smaller road to get back to the main road. We are now proceeding."

"We were unable to speak at the mine as we heard at the gate, there were ZANU-PF activists blocking the entrance. We only managed to speak to our local councillors," Moyo said.

Also today, the government announced a ban on all foreign aid groups operating in the country. Some groups, including CARE International had already been banned earlier this week.

"I hereby instruct all PVOs/NGOs to suspend all field operations until further notice," said social welfare minister Nicholas Goche in a statement.

James Elder, a spokesperson for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), called it "completely unacceptable and hugely concerning. Hundreds of thousands of children are in need of immediate assistance. With the onset of the winter in Zimbabwe, the timing is critical for children who are among the most vulnerable and most in need of support."

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer called on President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to pressure Mugabe "not to starve the population and to allow international organizations to function."

"It's unbelievable that the government will actually kick out the organizations which are providing services to the people," Frazer said.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights told Voice of America that halting food aid is unconscionable in the opinion of Louise Arbour.

"To deprive people of food because of an election is a complete perversion of democracy. How can you possibly deprive people with food and then ask for a democratic vote?" Colville said.

Speaking at the United Nations Headquarters, the Zimbabwean ambassador Boniface Chidyauskiku said that the government was not using food as a tool in the election.

"There is no use of food as a political weapon. It is the other way around. It is the relief agencies, followed by the U.S. government, that have been using food as a political weapon," Chidyauskiku said to the Associated Press. "They have gone out into the countryside and they have been telling Zimbabweans that if you don't vote for the opposition, if you don't change your vote, there's no food for you."

Yesterday, United States and United Kingdom diplomats were stopped in their vehicles in an incident the US called "outrageous" and said that they were threatened with being burned alive in their cars.

"Basically, the police told them they were not going anywhere unless they got out of the car," said deputy information minister Bright Matonga. "The police told them they should respect the laws of the country unless they have something to hide."

Two days ago, Tsvangirai was detained for several hours before being released without charges.