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Violence continues in Zimbabwe; Many Unaware Opposition Leader has Withdrawn from Presidential Run-off

By Joe De Capua
25 June 2008

As the political situation in Zimbabwe worsens, many have called for a negotiated settlement between President Mugabe and the opposition MDC party. Reporter Peta Thornycroft is following that story. From Harare, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the chances for a negotiated political solution.

"They would be quite good if, for example, the secretary-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, was released from detention. He's actually in…the high court today in Harare stating his case of why he believes he should be granted bail…. (MDC leader) Morgan Tsvangirai made it very clear today that no negotiations could take place while Tendai Biti remained in detention. So, that is the bottom line for the MDC," she says.

Biti faces treason charges. "He is charged with four counts, including treason and subverting a constitutional government. And he maintains that the document on which he's charged was certainly not his work. He had not authored it and that the signature on it is fraudulent. It was published in the state-controlled press in the middle of April. He immediately responded to that publication, saying he had not written it and he threatened to sue them," she says.

There is precedent for someone in Biti's situation to be released on bail. before the 2002 presidential election, Morgan Tsvangirai was himself charged with treason and was released on bail.

Meanwhile, despite Tsvangirai's dropping out of Friday's presidential run-off, the preparationscontinue. Thornycroft says, "Polling stations are being put up all over the country. There's something like 9,200 polling stations…. Mr. (President) Mugabe has said that he has to continue with the selection to fulfill the legal requirements of the constitution. The Zimbabwe Election Commission, which analysts believe is entirely partisan toward (the ruling party) ZANU-PF, has said that it doesn't recognize the letter of withdrawal from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. We are informed by the state press on a daily basis there will be an election. What worries the MDC, what worries many analysts, is that people who have got the message that Tsvangirai has withdrawn will be forced out of their homes and into the polling stations and forced to vote against their will and will be able to do nothing about it."

Reporter Thornycroft says that would be more difficult to do in urban areas than remote rural areas. "Many people in the rural areas, especially those affected by the violence, have no idea that Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn. There are no newspapers, no radio, no television, not even any transport in and out of those areas," she says. She says these areas are under an unofficial curfew maintained by ZANU-PF militias and "war veterans."

Thornycroft says this week she did managed to speak with women from rural areas of Zimbabwe. "On Tuesday evening, I went around to one of the clinics in Harare to check on the latest number of injured people coming in from the rural areas. And I interviewed three women from two different parts of the country, from the northeast and from the south. All three of them were badly injured. They have injuries to their buttocks and to their feet. So they can neither sit down, nor can they walk. And they're extremely gravely injured. And through their pain they told of how they'd been beaten by ZANU-PF in their villages, in their homes. But none of them knew that Morgan Tsvangirai had pulled out of the election," she says.

She says that when the women were told about Tsvangirai's decision, they were relieved and hoped it would help end the violence. "All three of them clasped their hands together, the tears streamed down their faces…. So far, however, there seemed to be no sign that the violence is decreasing," she says.

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