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Political Tension Grips Zimbabwe Ahead of Crucial Polls

Analysts and watchdog groups say the level of politically-motivated violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe is on the rise as the country heads for a constitutional referendum and a general election next year.

Detectives Thursday raided ZimRights offices in Harare and arrested an employee, though have not yet filed charges.

Last Friday, police in Gweru in the Midlands Province briefly detained 29 members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, but also released them without charges.

A few weeks ago, police raided the offices of the Counseling Services Unit and arrested three officials and members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise group were assaulted by police last month after demonstrating peacefully in Bulawayo.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wing of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says they receive reports of assaults, displacements, arrests and harassments by their supporters every day from all over the country.

In late November, the MDC reported that scores of their members were injured after they were assaulted by armed soldiers at a rally in Zhombe, Midlands Province.

Senior MDC officials have not been spared with Energy Minister and MDC deputy treasurer Elton Mangoma appearing in a Bindura Magistrates Court this week on allegations they insulted President Robert Mugabe.

The MDC party accuses Zanu PF of activating the same groups and methods used during past elections to intimidate opposition officials and supporters.

These groups include soldiers, central intelligence organisation operatives, the police, traditional chiefs and the youth militia.

In a report released Friday titled ‘Zimbabwe Transition Barometer, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition blamed the police and the military for siding with Zanu PF and harassing President Mugabe’s opponents.

The report reads in part: “National security institutions continue to function in a partisan manner with senior officials and some politicians making statements that impact negatively on security towards, during and after the election."

According to Crisis Coalition, “this tends to crowd out civilians and the general citizenry from occupying their natural political space as security sector interests in politics become over-projected.”

It adds that given the marked interest of the security sector officials in politics and elections, there is “a high potential for increased state sponsored violence and intimidation.”

The organization also warns that the credibility of the election itself is threatened by threats of military involvement should eventual results not fall in favour of Zanu PF.
Some senior army officers are on record as saying they will not allow Mr. Tsvangirai to lead the country even if he wins the presidential election.

The Zimbabwe National Students Union also released a statement, saying it is alarmed by the recent upsurge in arrests of civic society members.

ZimRights Director Okay Machisa told VOA Studio 7 that talk of elections always brings violence in Zimbabwe.
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The Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Human Rights also condemned what it calls “a massive crackdown on the NGO community”, warning it may intensify as the country moves closer to elections in 2013.
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The R.F.K Centre’s senior advocacy officer, Jeff Smith, went so far as to say that international peace keepers might need to be deployed in Harare before elections.