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1 Dies in Zimbabwe Jailbreak Bid

Africa: Officers open fire after backers of ruling party sought to storm police station and free 19 people held in attacks on opposition members.

May 27, 2000|From Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police opened fire on a group of ruling party supporters, fatally wounding one man, when the group attempted to free 19 people jailed for political violence, police said Friday.

For three hours, about 50 Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, supporters attempted to storm the police station in Mvurwi, 60 miles north of Harare, the capital, prompting paramilitary police to fire tear gas and live rounds over the heads of the mob, Assistant Inspector Tarwireyi Tirivavi said.

One man was hit at close range by a tear-gas canister and later died in a hospital, Tirivavi said from police headquarters in Harare.

The mob was attempting to free fellow ZANU-PF members who had been arrested in attacks on opposition supporters.

But the 19, arrested during rioting with opposition supporters Sunday and Monday, had already been transferred to Bindura prison, 45 miles northeast of Harare.

The killing marked the first time a member of President Robert Mugabe's party has been slain in the political violence that began in February.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, meanwhile, said the voter boundaries and voter lists released early Friday ahead of parliamentary elections were in "a shambles."

One example, said MDC legal advisor David Coltart, was the separation of a husband and wife into two different constituencies. "I queried whether the constituency boundary ran down the middle of the matrimonial bed," he said. The MDC was still studying the voter rolls.

The party's constitutional expert, Welshman Ncube, said earlier that voters' numbers in certain districts had been tampered with to give the ruling ZANU-PF the advantage.

Zimbabwe's political violence started after Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum that would have strengthened his powers and allowed him to seize white-owned land.

After the referendum, black squatters began occupying white-owned farms. More than 1,400 farms have since been occupied, according to the Commercial Farmers' Union, which represents mostly white farmers.

The farmers say the agitation for land reform is really a cover for a ZANU-PF terror campaign against the opposition. Mugabe has been in power since he led Zimbabwe to independence from Britain in 1980.

In the last three months, one policeman and at least 22 opposition supporters have been killed in attacks blamed on by ZANU-PF loyalists.

Malcolm Vowles, chairman of the Commercial Farmers' Union in Mvurwi, said police were ready for Thursday's attack.

"Police knew there was a crowd coming to bomb the police station, so they were prepared," he said. "They fired tear gas and live rounds."

A Commercial Farmers' Union statement issued in Harare said that some police districts, after having stood by for the last three months, were now taking an active role against violence perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters

However, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Friday that, in other districts, police and members of the feared Central Intelligence Organization were still intimidating suspected opposition supporters.

Farm takeovers have continued, but one group of squatters mistakenly tried to occupy land in a game reserve, according to one report.

When a group of 100 people tried to claim land at Gonarezhou National Park, on Zimbabwe's southeastern border with Mozambique, they "had to run for dear life" when their presence angered a pride of lions, police told the Daily News.

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