Tsvangirai released after brief detention

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was released from police detention Wednesday evening after being taken in for questioning while campaigning in the second round of Zimbabwe's presidential elections.

Tsvangirai, 56, was detained at a roadblock near the village of Lupane in western Zimbabwe, together with several other party members.

Tsvangirai was released around 2015 GMT Wednesday after being held for around nine hours, during which he was questoned about his earlier campaign walkabout in Lupane, his spokesman George Sibotshiwe confirmed.

Police also confiscated a security vehicle belonging to the team, Sibotshiwe said.

Tsvangirai returned around 10 days ago to Zimbabwe from more than a month of self-imposed exile in South Africa and Botswana to contest a run-off election against longtime President Robert Mugabe, 84, on June 27.

During his absence, over 50 MDC supporters were killed by supporters of Mugabe in a countrywide campaign of violence that analysts saw as an attempt to cow people into voting for the elderly leader in the run-off vote.

Earlier Wednesday, two people were killed and their bodies badly burnt and three were injured in an an attack on MDC offices in a remote area in south-east Zimbabwe, witnesses in the area said.

In a separate incident, at least one other MDC activist was injured when the vehicle he was in was intercepted by gunmen.

In Washington, the United States called earlier Wednesday for Tsvangirai's immediate release, "unharmed, untouched," and called his jailing a "deeply disturbing development."

Tsvangirai has suffered severe injuries during past arrests by Mugabe's regime.

The US also pushed South Africa to use more leverage to bring about a fair election there. South African President Thabo Mbeki has been reluctant to voice criticism of Mugabe, as a fellow African leader.

Tsvangirai's detention came amid news that Mugabe's government had suspended the operations of several aid organizations providing relief to some of Zimbabwe's hungry.

United States-based relief organization Care International said the government had ordered it to suspend its relief work, after accusing it of "political activity." Two other smaller NGOs were reportedly also ordered to stop work.

The government's action had affected aid delivery to 500,000 people, Care said, which vehemently denied that the organization had partaken in or encouraged any political activity.

Last year, in the "lean period" between crop harvests, 920,000 Zimbabweans were fed by Care.

Around 4 million people are dependent on food aid in Zimbabwe, where a campaign of white-owned farm seizures starting in 2000 decimated commercial agriculture.

This year's grain harvest is expected to be significantly lower than last year's already risible yield, meaning hunger is likely to increase.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Zimbabwe to immediately overturn the ban.

The campaign of intimidation against the opposition that began around a week after the March 29 elections in rural areas has broadened in recent days to include MDC leaders and leading lawyers and activists.

The MDC won a parliamentary majority in the March elections and Tsvangirai also won more votes than Mugabe in the presidential ballot, but not enough for an outright win,

Mugabe has rejected calls to step down and embarked on what he has likened to "a war" to secure a sixth term.

Since his return to Zimbabwe Tsvangirai has been severely stymied in his attempts to campaign. He has been banned from holding rallies in several towns in his party's western stronghold and senior party members, including rebel MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara, have been arrested.

Mugabe's wife Grace was quoted as saying last week that even if Tsvangirai won the election he would never enter State House (the president's residence), fuelling suspicion Mugabe could refuse to relinquish power if defeated.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday after meeting Mugabe in Rome said he would send an envoy to Zimbabwe to discuss conditions for a credible run-off.

But Mugabe reportedly snubbed the idea, saying he would not accept "anything that smells of American and British influence."

Mugabe's presence at the UN summit this week, where he again accused his country's hardships on Western sanctions targeting mainly the ruling elite, reignited calls in Britain for him to be stripped of a knighthood he was awarded in the early 1990s.

But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown backed away from such a move, saying he was "less interested in the symbols than the substance."

"We will of course look at every action we can take but the first thing to do is to make sure these (June 27) elections are free and fair. That is the first priority," Brown said, according to dpa.

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