June 24, 2008

Opponent Pulls Out As Mugabe’s Thugs Reach Low ; INTERNATIONAL ‘We Can’t Vote When We’Ll Lose Our Lives’


OPPOSITION leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of Zimbabwe's violence-wracked presidential run-off yesterday, declaring the election was no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

The announcement cleared the way for President Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite mounting condemnation from even loyal African allies that the former independence hero has become a despot who has bankrupted his once thriving economy and embarrassed a continent that is embracing democracy.

"We can't ask the people to cast their vote ... when that vote will cost their lives. We will no longer participate in this violent sham of an election," Mr Tsvangirai said.

He addressed a news conference in Zimbabwe's capital after thousands of militants loyal to Mr Mugabe prevented opposition supporters from gathering for its main campaign rally - in a now- routine pattern of intimidation.

As night fell, militia groups roamed the capital. Normally busy Sunday traders packed up early and tension was high. Hotels sent their workers home early.

Mr Tsvangirai called on the UN, the EU and the Southern African regional bloc to intervene.

He said he would put forward new proposals by Wednesday on how to take the country forward. The opposition has repeatedly said it would welcome a government of "national healing" including ruling ZANU-PF party members but not Mr Mugabe himself.

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the run- off would go ahead in accordance with the constitution - and to prove Zimbabweans' support for their long-time leader.

"The constitution does not say that if somebody drops out or decides to chicken out the run-off will not be held," Ndlovu said. "It is an election of the people of Zimbabwe against Britain and America," he said, returning to the government's theme of portraying Mr Tsvangirai as a puppet of Western powers out to re-colonise Zimbabwe.

Mr Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but according to official results did not gain an outright majority against 84-year-old Mr Mugabe, who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980. That campaign was generally peaceful, but the runoff has been overshadowed by violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas. Human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands displaced from their homes, mostly opposition supporters.

Mr Ndlovu reiterated government claims that the opposition was to blame for the violence.

(c) 2008 Daily Post; Liverpool. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.