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Zimbabwean Prime Minister Tsvangirai Accuses Police of Fanning Violence

In prepared remarks, Mr. Tsvangirai cited "rising political tensions ... increasing cases of violence, sabotage and total disrespect by the police and other government agencies of the prime minister

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Wednesday accused the national police of undermining the peace following a disturbance in Harare on Tuesday close by the offices of his formation of the Movement for Democratic Change.

During a news conference Mr. Tsvangirai also suggested that President Robert Mugabe consider stepping down from office given his age and health - Mr. Mugabe over the past few years has been shuttling between Harare and Singapore for medical treatment of what credible reports say is prostate cancer that has spread to other organs.

In prepared remarks, Mr. Tsvangirai cited "rising political tensions ... increasing cases of violence, sabotage and total disrespect by the police and other government agencies of the prime minister, even as he executes government programs."

On Tuesday, police in Harare pursued street vendors into the downtown building in which Mr. Tsvangirai's party has its headquarters and fired off teargas canisters, then "tried to force their way into the offices for no apparent reason," Mr. Tsvangirai said.

"They threatened bystanders, threw tear gas into crowds going about their business and brought the entire city into a standstill as citizens scurried for cover," he said.

The police have also barred the prime minister from holding political rallies around the country in a replay of the approach to the 2008 general elections.

"On Saturday, I was scheduled to tour St. Paul's clinic in Lupane (Matabeleland North province), but police in three truckloads chased away staff an hour before my arrival and locked the gate," Mr. Tsvangirai said. Police "chased away people" intending to attend Tsvangirai appearances later that day and on Sunday in Victoria Falls, he said.

The two Home Affairs co-ministers who at least in theory are charged with overseeing the police offered different responses to Mr. Tsvangirai's charges.

Co-Minister Theresa Makone, a member of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC, said rogue elements in the police are fanning violence. But her ZANU-PF counterpart, Kembo Mohadi, said the level of violence was being exaggerated.

ZANU-PF member of Parliament for Mwenezi East Kudakwashe Bhasikiti told reporter Blessing Zulu that the MDC is stirring violence to stave off elections.

Civic organizations have condemned the escalation of political violence in Harare and elsewhere over the past few weeks, saying they are disappointed by the partisan manner in which the police have dealt with such disturbances.

National Constitutional Assembly Youth Chairman Alois Dzvairo told reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that the NCA will pursue its “Act Now Against Political Violence” campaign.

With political tensions building again in Harare, facilitators for South African President Jacob Zuma have returned to Harare. The spokesperson for the team, foreign affairs aide Lindiwe Zulu, said it was a follow-up visit to fine tune the elections road map.

In his news conference, Mr. Tsvangirai expressed disappointment that the Southern African Development Community has not yet deployed a technical committee to work with the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee, a panel created to measure compliance by the co-governing parties with the Global Political Agreement.

Facilitator Zulu told VOA reporter Violet Gonda that the team’s visit was previously scheduled and not made in response to complaints by the Tsvangirai MDC formation about police obstruction of rallies or the recent upsurgence of political violence.

Tsvangirai MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the party secured a commitment from the South African facilitators that the SADC team will soon be deployed.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo could not be reached for comment.