Allegations that an assassination plot had been hatched against Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Saturday, leading his Movement for Democratic Change to postpone his return to the country after a seven-week absence, have injected a sobering element into campaigning for the June 27 presidential run-off election.
Hundreds of MDC supporters had gathered at the party's Harare headquarters early Saturday and many went to Harare International Airport to greet Tsvangirai, only to be told that he was not going to be coming in from Johannesburg, South Africa.
MDC officials said they had received information from a "credible source" indicating a plan to assassinate Tsvangirai following his arrival. Party officials were tight-lipped about the details, but said they felt security arrangements were inadequate.
Tsvangirai faces President Robert Mugabe in the run-off, having outpolled him in the March 29 first round with 47.9% of the vote vs. the incumbent's 43.2% share according to the figures released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on May 2. But the MDC maintains that Tsvangirai in fact obtained a majority over 50% of ballots and has objected to the run-off, charging that the official outcome was rigged.
Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai has already appealed to the leaders of the Southern African Development Community to ensure his safety in the presidential campaign.
The MDC did not specifically accuse Mr. Mugabe's government of having a hand in the alleged plot. Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said the cancellation of Tsvangirai's return to Harare was an opposition campaign gimmick.
Nairobi-based political analyst Brian Kagoro commented that he would not put it past certain elements of ZANU-PF or the government to try to assassinate Tsvangirai despite the intense international spotlight now on the country.
The party's decision to put off Tsvangirai's return disappointed the many opposition supporters who had gathered at the party's headquarters in Harvest House, an office block in central Harare, as correspondent Sylvia Manika reported.
Elsewhere, relations between Harare and Washington became increasingly strained following a Foreign Ministry warning to U.S. Ambassador James McGee for visiting the victims of political violence in rural hospitals without government permission.
Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi was said to have threatened to expel the U.S. envoy over a trip last week to Mvurwe, Mashonaland Central Province, where he was confronted by local police who sought to detain him for questioning. He and other diplomats were later stopped for about an hour at a roadblock outside Harare.
A U.S. Embassy official confirmed McGee was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, but declined further comment on the encounter with the foreign minister.
London-based political analyst Innocent Sithole told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele that rules requiring diplomats to get authorization to travel more than 40 kilometers from Harare are intended to prevent them from witnessing rural conditions.
In South Africa, meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and dozens of civic groups today marched in Johannesburg and other cities in solidarity with the quest by the Zimbabwean people for democracy, as Benedict Nhlapho reported.