Zimbabwean military and police units made a massive show of force on Thursday in Harare’s densely populated townships and elsewhere after a warning from President Robert Mugabe that protests after Saturday's elections will not be tolerated.
Residents of the Harare high-density suburbs of Mabvuku, Tafara, Budiriro, Highfield and Glen View as well as satellite city Chitungwiza said troops and police in armored vehicles and on motorbikes accompanied by water cannon were circulating.
In Mutare, capital of Manicaland Province on the border with Mozambique, told VOA that air force jets made low-level passes over the city. Sources in rural Manicaland said heavily armed soldiers had been deployed in the province.
Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said he was unaware of such drills. But army sources said the armed forces are now on high alert.
The state-run Herald newspaper said police were holding anti-violence exercises in Harare and Marondera, Mashonaland East, in case of post-election violence.
Highfield resident Munyaradzi Gandanzara told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that security forces patrolling the streets today were heavily armed.
Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu charged that the political opposition plans to unleash violence following the presidential, general and local elections.
Political analyst John Makumbe, a prominent government critic, said Harare is trying to intimidate voters before the ballot, but said the tactic won't work.
Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai rallied supporters in Chitungwiza Thursday.
Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera said Tsvangirai urged supporters to guard against rigging of the vote by Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.
From Bulawayo, correspondent Netsai Mlilo said supporters of presidential hopeful Simba Makoni held a last campaign rally in the country's second largest city at which former home affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa urged Mr. Mugabe be turned out.
Some are comparing this election to the one in 1980 which ushered ZANU-PF into power following a war which had almost brought the country to its knees.
Now the economy is the foe and the ruling party is on the defensive with the the opposition promising reform and restored prosperity.
For insight into this election dynamic, reporter Jonga Kandemiiri spoke with veteran journalist and political analyst James Maridadi from Harare.
Elsewhere, the lawyer representing incarcerated South African pilot Brent Smythe, arrested this week while preparing to fly opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to rallies around Zimbabwe, filed an urgent high court application seeking release of his client after Harare police failed Thursday to bring him for arraignment as scheduled.
Police have charged Smythe with currency fraud and overstaying his visa. Attorney Innocent Chagonda told VOA his client’s application will be heard Friday.