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US-Zimbabwean Diplomatic Row Erupts Over Surging Political Violence In Countryside

A diplomatic row between the United States and Zimbabwe widened Wednesday as the state-controlled Herald newspaper accused U.S. Ambassador James McGee of mounting "a spirited campaign to demonize" the government and breaching diplomatic protocol by visiting rural hospitals treating victims of political violence.

The Herald broadside followed incidents Tuesday in which police in Mvurwe, a town in Mashonaland Central Province north of Harare, attempted to detain McGee and other envoys at a hospital after they tried to visit victims of politically motivated attacks. The diplomatic convoy was again delayed at a roadblock on its way back to Harare.

The Herald stated that McGee, "who has been on a spirited campaign to demonize the government ahead of the presidential election run-off...circumvented diplomatic protocol and went on a "fact-finding mission" to support his claims of political violence against the opposition." It said McGee breached diplomatic protocol in traveling more than 40 kilometers from Harare without Foreign Affairs Ministry permission.

McGee rejected this contention, saying that diplomatic protocols allow him as a diplomat to travel the width and breadth of a country to which he is posted.

McGee said he and British, Japanese, Tanzanian and European Union diplomats saw "evidence that violence is being perpetrated against innocent people who'd done nothing more than vote their conscience in the last election."

Since the March 29 general elections in which the opposition won a majority in the lower house of parliament and its presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai outpolled Mr. Mugabe, youth militia and war veterans linked to the ruling ZANU-PF party have been attacking opposition members in rural communities. The death toll among opposition members has risen to 33, an MDC official said Wednesday.

Government and ZANU-PF officials have blamed the violence on the opposition, but many observers have concluded the state sanctions and supports the violence.

McGee told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he sees "no evidence that the government is determined to stop this violence."

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