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Political Violence Picking Up As Zimbabwe National Elections Approach

Politically motivated violence and police arrests of Zimbabwean opposition candidates and supporters have been rising as the country's March 29 election approaches.

In the eastern province of Manicaland, sources said the home of a local leader of war veterans, Misheck Masukume, was burned Wednesday by unknown assailants.

A Mutare police officer told VOA said the blaze was under investigation.

Masukume, a staunch supporter of the ruling ZANU-PF party, had been implicated in an assault on opposition activist Pishai Muchauraya by alleged ZANU-PF supporters who were said to have been riding in Masukume’s truck at the time.

In the Mashonaland West town of Karoi, 18 opposition members including Timothy Mutsunge, a candidate for parliament for the Magunje constituency, were arrested on Monday and charged with violating the Public Order and Security Act.

Mutsunge and two others were released Thursday on bail of Z$100 million apiece. An MDC source said 15 others remained in custody on Friday because it had not been possible to raise the Z$100 million (US$3) bail for all of them.

An MDC circular on the incident alleged that the police officer in charge for Magunje, a certain Ruzungunde, was working with ZANU-PF candidate Franco Ndambakuwa to block the opposition challenge for the parliamentary seat.

The much criticized law underwent amendment early this year in the context of the now-defunct crisis resolution talks between the ruling party and opposition, but that has not stopped police around the country from citing it in making such arrests.

Opposition sources said Mutsunge and the others were putting up campaign posters for Morgan Tsvangirai, presidential candidate for his grouping of the Movement for Democratic Change. Police said they were gathering without police clearance.

Elsewhere, members of Tsvangirai's opposition formation were said to be fearing the worst following the abduction of a local council candidate late last month.

The party's parliamentary candidate for the Rushinga constituency of Mashonaland Central, Samuel Ndaradzi, said he and other MDC activists fear Edson Mumwengwa was abducted by ZANU-PF militants as he previously had received death threats.

Ndaradzi said the man's whereabouts were unknown and police did not seem keen to investigate the matter despite three reports on the disappearance to local posts.

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

Senior Political Analyst Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group's Southern African office told reporter Carole Gombakomba of that the rise in violence and arrests of opposition members reflect a buildup in momentum towards the elections.

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