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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai Says Army Expanding Role In Presidential Run-Off

Zimbabwean opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said Tuesday that the country's military has staged a de fact coup d’état by taking control of large areas of the country and declaring them no-go areas for the opposition.

Tsvangirai, set to face President Robert Mugabe on June 27 in a presidential run-off election already marred by extensive political violence in the wake of the March 29 first-round election, issued the warning after his campaign was obliged to call off a campaign rally in Manama Mission, a village near Gwanda in Matabeleland South province that he said has been sealed off by heavily armed soldiers.

Members of a Tsvangirai campaign advance party heading for Manama were told that if they proceeded, the police could not guarantee their security given the presence of potentially hostile military units. The army has been implicated in political violence by ruling party militia and war veterans mainly targeting rural opposition supporters.

The incident occurred amid reports that Zimbabwean army officers are calling civilians to political meetings at which they are being instructed to vote for Mr. Mugabe.

“I don’t mind soldiers having an opinion about who they want to vote for, but certainly a coercive military strategy to force people to support a particular candidate and to be active in the campaign has very dangerous consequences,” Tsvangirai said.

“That must be discouraged, they are opening up the military to being involved in politics, which is dangerous for our democracy,” Tsvangirai continued. “It’s tantamount to a military coup, and I think that in Africa today, one of the most condemned actions is a military coup, because it undermines democratic development. So I think that’s the most dangerous development that’s happening in this country.”

In an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai said that because of the violence unleashed against his supporters, claiming more than 50 lives, his presidential campaign has been reduced to a whisper.

Tsvangirai is the founding president of the Movement for Democratic Change, the two formations of which claimed a majority in the lower house of parliament in the March 29 general election. His MDC formation maintains that he won a majority in the presidential ballot, but that the results were subsequently rigged.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission released its official first-round results on May 2, crediting Tsvangirai with 47.9% of the vote and Mr. Mugabe with 43.2% and declaring that as no one had claimed a majority of 50% plus one vote a run-off was needed.

For a government response, reporter Zulu reached Deputy Youth Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, also a senior member of president Robert Mugabe’’s campaign team., who blamed the wave of political violence on the opposition.

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