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Zimbabwe Crisis Takes Sharp Turn As Tsvangirai Seeks Embassy Refuge

  • Correspondents

Zimbabwe's political crisis entered uncharted territory Monday as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, no longer a presidential candidate after announcing Sunday that his Movement for Democratic Change would not take part in a presidential run-off election scheduled this week, sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy after police raided his party's headquarters.

Officials in the Netherlands confirmed that Tsvangirai had sought diplomatic protection though Tsvangirai in an interview with VOA declined to state his location, citing security concerns.

His dramatic step followed a police raid on MDC headquarters in central Harare. Sources in his party said police removed about 60 people, mainly women and children who had fled political violence and taken shelter in the Harvest House office block housing the MDC offices.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare.

MDC Vice President Thokozani Khupe said the MDC was obliged to house internally displaced people because the authorities barred humanitarian groups from relocating them.

Khupe told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the latest raid on the MDC headquarters was a sign of desperation by the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Governments and regional officials continued to issue statements in reaction to the news that Tsvangirai and his opposition party would boycott the presidential election which Tsvangirai on Sunday called a "violent, illegitimate sham of an electoral process."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said President Robert Mugabe and "his thugs" made it impossible to hold the run-off election and “now we face a critical crisis of legitimacy." He said that “the only people with any shred of legitimacy are the people who won the March 29 first round and that was the opposition,” Miliband told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said condemned "the government of Zimbabwe's continued campaign of violence again its own people." Rice said that it is clear Mr. Mugabe "is determined to thwart the will of the people" as expressed in national elections March 29.

"In forsaking the most basic tenant of government, the protection of its own people, the government of Zimbabwe must be held accountable by the international community," Rice said, urging the Southern African Development Community, the African Union Peace and Security Council, and the United Nations Security Council to take up the issue.

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey read Rice's statement to reporters in Washington, saying the Mugabe government "can not be considered legitimate in the absence of a run-off.

The question remained as to what will happen on Friday, scheduled date for the runoff, now that the MDC has said it will not participate. Zimbabwe Election Commission Chairman George Chiweshe and other officials said Monday that the ballot will still take place because his panel has not received formal notification from the opposition as to pulling out.

Chiweshe told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his commission does not act on speculation.

Regional leaders continued to look for a solution to the crisis following the latest turn, with South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediator in the crisis since March 2007 on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, said to be proposing the election be postponed.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping voiced “grave concern” in a statement, saying he had contacted President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, AU chairman, as well as SADC

Former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe Princeton Lyman told VOA reporter Chinedu Offor that although regional and African initiatives are important, the solution lies with the ruling party itself whose members must consider the consequences of President Mugabe’s strategy.

Zimbabweans continued to weigh Tsvangirai's decision to boycott the poll.

Programs Manager Pedzisayi Ruhanya of the Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition said the opposition had no obligation to contest the ballot, which he said was was being set up to legitimize the continued rule of President Mugabe. But some staunch MDC supporters said the leader should have continued, as many had already given their lives and more might do so.

Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe told reporter Carole Gombakoma of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the MDC had to take the step, and that although some African regional leaders like Zambian President and SADC Chairman Levy Mwanawasa are now criticizing Harare, this comes too late to make a difference.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...