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Tsvangirai Says Harare Must Guarantee His Security Under Regional Protocols

Zimbabwean opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday that he will return to the country from South Africa on Saturday, in effect launching his campaign for a June 27 presidential run-off election. His opponent, President Robert Mugabe, will launch his own campaign on Sunday.

Tsvangirai announced his intention to return to Zimbabwe after weeks in South Africa and elsewhere in the region and further abroad pursuing diplomatic initiatives aimed at building support for his Movement for Democratic Change which says he garnered a majority in the March 29 first round but is contesting the run-off under protest.

But questions remain in many quarters as to whether Tsvangirai’s life will be at risk once he returns. His party says military intelligence deployed snipers last week to kill him upon his scheduled return on May 17, which was called off at the last moment. The Harare government has dismissed the notion that of any such plot existed.

Asked about the perceived threat to his safety, Tsvangirai responded in an exclusive interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare is in fact responsible for his security under electoral protocols agreed by member nations of the Southern African Development Community, including Zimbabwe.

Elsewhere, the South African-based Solidarity Peace Trust has urged crisis mediator President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to push for the formation of a transitional government in Harare to end deadly political violence and avert a civil war.

The group's recommendation follows a similar call Tuesday by the International Crisis group which proposed a transitional government headed by Tsvangirai which would allow the country to bypass a potentially traumatic presidential run-off contest.

The Solidarity Peace Trust charged that Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has embarked on systematic retributive violence in response to its electoral defeat in March, so it is neither practical nor desirable to push on with the presidential runoff ballot.

Regional Coordinator Glen Mpani of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, said a transitional government could be a viable approach - but acknowledged that ZANU-PF buy-in would be a long shot.

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