Zimbabwe police say Tsvangirai refuge is "exhibitionist antic"

Zimbabwe's police chief said Tuesday that the move by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy in Zimbabwe was "an exhibitionist antic."

The 56-year-old pro-democracy leader has been in the Dutch embassy in the leafy suburb of Highlands since Sunday night, shortly after he announced that he was withdrawing from the run-off presidential election against President Mugabe, reported dpa.

He cited violence, harassment and rigging by Mugabe's government and ZANU(PF) party which had turned the ballot into a "violent, illegitimate sham of an electoral process."

The state-controlled daily Herald Tuesday quoted commissioner- general of police Augustine Chihuri as saying that Tsvangirai's appeal to the Dutch for protection was "a desperate attempt to besmirch" the election on Friday.

"We believe the latest development is an exhibitionist antic intended to provoke international anger and mustering of sympathy from his handlers," a reference to the British and United States governments.

"We therefore declare that Mr Morgan Tsvangirai is under no threat at all," and urged him to "go home and enjoy his sleep and nothing will happen to him. Zimbabwe is a peaceful place."

Also Tuesday, MDC national organizing secretary and MP Elias Mudzuri said that a group of soldiers had attacked his rural home in the Zaka district about 350 kilometres from Harare in south-east Zimbabwe, inflicting head wounds on his 80-year-old father, and injuring five others, including a guard who was shot in the leg.

His house was also damaged.

He said was trying to have the injured brought to hospital in Harare. About 80 people were living in the village, and wanted to be evacuated to the capital to escape the violence.

"How can I do that?" he asked. "I am being threatened at my house here (in Harare). I have nowhere to run.

"They reported to police but were told they cannot do anything, because it is their seniors who do these operations."

There have been mixed reports of violence following Tsvangirai's withdrawal, with residents in Epworth, a large township south of Harare that has been the scene of mass beatings and violent intimidation for weeks, reporting that riot police were patrolling the streets and shops had reopened, where on Sunday mobs of ZANU(PF) youths were rampaging with impunity.

In another sign of police clamping down after weeks of inaction against lawlessness, state radio carried a warning by police that would act against youths mounting "illegal" roadblocks.

Motorists from all round the country, including several main highways, reported being stopped, searched and harassed by ZANU(PF) youths.

Also Tuesday, an internet server advised its clients in an email that "due to the rising violence caused by political uncertainty," in Harare it was suspending its evening and early morning services so that staff would be able to travel to and from home in safety while it was still light.

On Sunday, gangs of ZANU(PF) youths in the city centre and adjacent townships roamed the streets, assaulting and harassing passersby. Doctors said 86 people had to be treated for injuries sustained in attacks that day.

Also in the state-controlled Herald Tuesday, Mugabe was quoted as telling people at a rally in south-east Zimbabwe that "Britain and her allies are telling a lot of lies about Zimbabwe, saying a lot of people are dying."

He said that Western governments "want to build a situation to justify their intervention in Zimbabwe."

Last week, independent doctors who have been treating the victims of political violence in the last 11 weeks since the first round of elections on March 29, published a list of 85 people whose deaths they had confirmed, either by seeing the bodies and their injuries, or by witnessing post-mortem reports.

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