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Zimbabwe: Police Chief Accuses Tsvangirai of “Stunt” to Harm Country’s Image

June 24, 2008

Text of report by South Africa-based Zim Online website on 24 June

[Report by Wayne Mafaro: "Theres No Threat to Tsvangirais Life: Zim Police Chief"]

HARARE – Zimbabwe police chief Augustine Chihuri on Monday accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Morgan Tsvangirai of lying about threats to his life and seeking refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare as a stunt meant to besmirch the country’s image abroad.

Chihuri, a staunch loyalist of President Robert Mugabe who ordered his men to arrest Tsvangirai five times over the past four weeks, said the opposition leader had not notified the police of any threats to his life before seeking refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare.

The police chief said the Harare authorities had learnt with “shock and surprise” of Tsvangirai’s decision to seek sanctuary at the Dutch embassy. He said the move by the opposition leader was meant to sully the reputation of Zimbabwe, its police force and the country’s presidential run-off election on Friday.

Chihuri said: “We have learnt with shock and surprise of the dramatic move to seek refugee at the Dutch embassy in Harare today by Mr Tsvangirai.

“We do not have any complaints from Mr Tsvangirai or his party of any threats of violence or attempts on his life that would cause him to fear for his safety and seek sanctuary at a foreign embassy.”

The Dutch government said on Monday that Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the presidential run-off poll because of political violence against his supporters, sought overnight refuge at its mission in Harare.

Amsterdam said the Zimbabwean opposition leader had not applied for political asylum but had only come to the embassy because he feared for his safety.

“He asked to come and stay because he was concerned about his safety,” said a foreign ministry official from the Dutch capital.

Chihuri claimed there was no threat to Tsvangirai’s life, saying “we ask the Netherlands embassy that if Mr Tsvangirai is there, tell him to go home and enjoy his sleep.”

It was not clear last night whether Tsvangirai was still holed up at the Dutch embassy with some officials in the MDC saying he had left. The MDC leader was not immediately available for comment.

Tsvangirai went to the Dutch embassy after announcing he was withdrawing from Friday’s election because a free and fair vote was impossible because of widespread political violence.

The opposition leader, who defeated Mugabe in the first round voting in March and remained favourite to win the run-off poll despite political violence against his supporters, said political violence had killed 86 members of his party displaced 200 000 others since March.

He appealed to the Southern African Development Community, African Union and the United Nations to intervene to restore law and order in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile Chihuri also denied that police had arrested MDC supporters during a raid at the party’s Harvest House headquarters earlier in the day.

The police commander said health inspectors had gone to the opposition party’s offices under escort from the police to remove people who displaced people who had been sheltering at the offices and take them to a proper government institution in Ruwa, just outside Harare.

“No one was looking for anybody for any crime at Harvest House…It’s Ministry of Health inspectors who were accompanied by the police who went to Harvest House,” he said.

A ZimOnline reporter at the scene saw armed police and some plain- clothes officers (who could have been the health inspectors claimed by Chihuri) storm Harvest House and emerge with scores of people some of whom had serious injuries presumably suffered during political violence.

The police loaded the MDC supporters onto a bus and drove away with them. It was not known where the police took the MDC supporters until Chihuri’s statement.

Originally published by Zim Online, Johannesburg, in English 24 Jun 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.