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Mugabe's foes brace for fallout

As Zimbabwe's leader is inaugurated, analysts say his opponents are in danger. Observers reject the election.

June 30, 2008|From a Times Staff Writer

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — As Robert Mugabe was inaugurated Sunday to a new five-year term as Zimbabwe's president, critics and analysts warned that his pattern of violent revenge against opponents could be repeated in coming months in an attempt to destroy his chief rival's party.

The announcement of Mugabe's inauguration at the State House in Harare and the issuing of invitations were so hasty that both came several hours before the results of Friday's one-man presidential runoff were released.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission eventually reported that Mugabe had received 2.1 million votes to 233,000 for Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, who withdrew from the race June 22 because of intensifying violence against opposition supporters.

In a significant blow for Mugabe's bid to be accepted as Zimbabwe's legitimate president, regional observers from the Southern African Development Community rejected the election as not representing the will of the people. The group's observers, rarely critical of a member nation's election, raised concerns about the political violence and displacement of people. Observers with the Pan-African Parliament also condemned the election and strongly criticized the violence and intimidation.

The criticism by African observers leaves Mugabe in a difficult situation as he flies to Egypt for an African Union summit today, at which the election will probably be raised.

He also faces pressure from the Bush administration and the British government, which have threatened to impose new sanctions against his regime and to press for strong action by the United Nations as early as today.

But China, which has had some arms trade with Zimbabwe, indicated that it might resist the effort, and it holds a veto as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. When pressed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the idea of an arms embargo at a meeting Sunday in Beijing, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was vague.

"The most pressing task now is to stabilize the situation in Zimbabwe," Yang told reporters after the meeting. "China, as a responsible country, will also play a constructive role in this process."

In a phone interview Sunday, Tsvangirai said he feared that the violence that marked the election was not over.

"This is war, this is not an election. These people are for the total annihilation of the MDC," he said. "I think this violent campaign may be reduced to hit squads targeted at our leaders, MPs and councilors to get control of the parliament."

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, had come in second to Tsvangirai in the first round of voting in March that also saw his party lose its majority in parliament. Declaring his determination to stay in power, he fought the election runoff as a military-style campaign run by generals and security chiefs.

Hundreds of command bases were set up across the country, run by liberation war veterans and soldiers and manned by youth militias tied to the ruling party, who hunted down opposition activists and beat them, sometimes to death.

The election slogans for the ruling ZANU-PF party summed up Mugabe's view of himself as Zimbabwe's unquestioned leader and the opposition as an enemy force bent on allowing the recolonization of the country by Britain.

"Mugabe is right," was the simple declaration on posters around Harare. Another read, "This is the final battle for total control."

After Mugabe was declared the winner, ZTV state television erupted in triumphalism, with "Congratulations Winner" flashing repeatedly. Religious commentators on ZTV read biblical excerpts to back the proposition that the country must unite around one leader anointed by God.

A prayer at the inauguration said it was a "divine day" and called for God to grant Mugabe "divine authority that only comes from you."

"In this new struggle for our country, many of our comrades lost life, limb and property," Mugabe declared Sunday, as though referring to a battle rather than an election. "Those people who have lost their lives in this gallant struggle, rest in peace assured that we remain vigilant to protect Zimbabwe's heritage."

But Human Rights Watch reported that the preelection violence was overwhelmingly perpetrated by the ruling ZANU-PF and against Tsvangirai's supporters. Independent doctors said 85 people had died and 3,000 were seriously injured. The casualties may be even higher: The opposition says there are 200 activists missing and presumed dead. An additional 200,000 were displaced, it says.

The violence that accompanied Mugabe's struggle to retain power echoed his past behavior, several observers said, and raised concerns about what is to come.

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