President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, having emerged unscathed from a regional summit where he had been expected to face a barrage of criticism, consolidated his position at home Friday as the central committee of his ZANU-PF party endorsed his candidacy for another presidential term in the election to be held next year.
His domestic opponents, meanwhile, were besieged by security forces which pursued a crackdown that intelligence sources said was intended to quell unrest across the increasingly impoverished country and silence Mr. Mugabe's critics.
Analysts said political violence against the opposition was likely to intensify following the ruling party's decision to endorse the president's candidacy and bringing general elections forward by two years to coincide with the presidential ballot.
ZANU-PF Spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told reporters after the meeting that the resolution endorsing Mr. Mugabe was accepted by the central committee and that "both the presidential and parliamentary elections will now be held in 2008."
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced that the party also resolved to expand the number of seats in parliament to 210 from 150 to 210 and add 18 senate seats to the 66 in the upper chamber restored in late 2005 by a constitutional amendment.
The minister also said the central committee had also resolved that if a presidential vacancy occurs between elections, parliament would elect an acting president. The constitution now provides for a new election to be held in 90 days, but as the ruling party holds a two-thirds parliamentary majority it can pass amendments at will.
The week that saw Mr. Mugabe reassert his primacy within the ruling party also saw a renewed crackdown on the opposition. More than 70 political and civil society activists have been abducted or arrested in recent days by suspected agents of the Central Intelligence Organization or by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, opposition officials say. Many of those kidnapped or arrested have been beaten, they charge.
Zimbabwean intelligence sources said the intention is to discredit the opposition by accusing it of engaging in terrorist activities. Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri accused the West of sponsoring what he called acts of terrorism. A raid Wednesday on the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai was said to be staged to search for weapons or explosives.
Mr. Mugabe echoed Chihuri's words in remarks to the central committee Friday, said ruling party sources. He told reporters outside his party's headquarters that Tsvangirai deserved the beating he got at the hands of the police as he had provoked them.
Police were alleged to have severely beaten Tsvangirai and other opposition and civil society officials arrested after authorities halted a prayer meeting March 11.
MDC officials said more than 60 members had been arrested or abducted in the past week. The National Constitutional Assembly, a civic organization that has challenged the Mugabe government, said 16 of its members had been abducted in recent days.
The Harare high court ordered police Friday to provide detained opposition members with access to their lawyers, medical attention and food, and ordered they be brought to court for arraignment by 2 p.m. or set free. But police defied the order, according to MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama. Nine opposition members who appeared in court on Thursday were back in court Friday, and were again denied bail.
National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that contempt for the country's judiciary and the rule of law has become a hallmark of the Mugabe government.
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