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Political Violence Strikes Family Of Senior Zimbabwe Opposition Official

Family members of spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Friday joined the rising number of victims of the political violence that has made a battleground of rural areas since elections March 29.

MDC sources said armed soldiers and suspected ZANU-Pf militia members assaulted Chamisa's parents and younger brother at his rural home in the Chiwara communal lands of Gutu South constituency, Masvingo province. They said the attackers then proceeded to seek out and batter other relatives of Chamisa in the village.

Chamisa himself was attacked by suspected state security agents wielding iron bars in March 2007 at the Harare airport as he prepared to leave for a conference in Europe, during an earlier and much less severe outbreak of political violence. That crisis gave rise to South African-mediated negotiations which dead-ended in early 2008.

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

Elsewhere, sources in Mashonaland Central province said two MDC activists were abducted from their homes late Thursday in Bindura South constituency by men believed to be state security agents. The sources said Jeremiah Mupandira and a councilor identified only as Machokoto had not been seen since then.

In Guruve North, Masvingo province, war veterans and ZANU-PF militia were said to be forcing opposition supporters to surrender MDC membership cards and denounce the party. Sources in the area said that villagers from Bakasa, Kachuta and Gota were force-marched on Wednesday to Chimanikire school by war veterans, shown guns and told that they had invited war by casting their votes for the opposition.

A source in Buhera South constituency said cases of rape of opposition members are on the rise. The source said the worst affected area is Mutiusinazita, where the ruling party youth militia has defied orders to dismantle their torture camp.

From Hwange Central constituency, Matabeleland North province, a source reported heavy violence in Jambezi village where supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe were said to be terrorizing MDC supporters.

Thomas Mafirakureva told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that war veterans threatened workers with dismissal from their jobs in the coal town for backing the MDC.

A humanitarian crisis at MDC headquarters in Harvest House, Harare, took a turn for the worse this week as some 200 women and children who failed to find alternative accommodations elsewhere were returned to the overcrowded MDC offices.

Correspondent Sylvia Manika reported from the Harvest House office block.

As preparations for the presidential run-off campaign gained momentum, MDC officials and supporters continue to face targeted violence, which critics fear could cripple its efforts to campaign freely. First Lady Grace Mugabe declared this week that "even if people vote for the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai will never step foot inside State Houseā€ the official residence of Zimbabwe's president. Observers have questioned whether it is possible at all in the current environment to hold a presidential run-off vote.

Former presidential candidate Simba Makoni this week urged Mugabe and Tsvangirai to forge a government of national unity to avoid a run off. Neither seems likely to take his advice. The official first-round count showed Tsvangirai with 47.9% of ballots and Mugabe with 43.2%, making him the underdog in the June 27 run-off ballot.

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan urged the MDC to enter into a dialogue with Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF even if Tsvangirai wins the run-off.

To examine the political violence and such calls for national unity, reporter Carole Gombakomba spoke with Xolani Zitha, national Coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, who says though the campaign environment is skewed in favor of ZANU-PF, the MDC can take comfort in the broad support it continues to receive despite the ongoing violence against its officials, members and supporters.

Research Director Brian Raftopolous of the South African-based Solidarity Peace Trust said targeted violence, ZANU-PF's attitude and a badly compromised Electoral Commission bode ill for the opposition's ability to wage a strong campaign.

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