- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Thousands of cheering and singing opposition supporters defied the government's campaign of intimidation to attend a packed stadium rally yesterday on the final weekend before parliamentary elections June 24 and 25.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people crowded into Harare's Rufaro stadium for the Movement for Democratic Change rally, several times more people than attended President Robert Mugabe's final Harare rally a day earlier.
Officials of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) publicly apologized to Mr. Mugabe for the disappointing crowd of 5,000 that showed up for that subdued event.
Supporters of the opposition MDC loudly proclaimed their sympathies from jammed buses and taxis on their way to yesterday's rally, despite attempts to obstruct them by ZANU-PF thugs, who are blamed for 35 deaths since the election campaign began.
The outpouring emboldened MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to call Mr. Mugabe "a violent president who does not love the people of this country," and to proclaim that an MDC victory "is certain."
"ZANU-PF is rotten and should be thrown away," he said. "We are gathered here because we want to say enough of corruption, enough of brutality, enough of poverty, enough of racism, enough of ZANU-PF."
In one ugly note, two men wearing ZANU-PF T-shirts under their coats were beaten by the crowd as they entered Rufaro stadium. They received bloodied noses and mouths before being rescued by police.
"I made a big mistake wearing this shirt. I swear I am MDC," said Tabiwa Chiwera, who said he wore the T-shirt out of fear of the ZANU-PF thugs who tried to keep people from the stadium.
MDC Legal Secretary David Coltart condemned the attack and said his party, the first to seriously challenge Mr. Mugabe in the 20 years since independence, was committed to a peaceful poll.
"We absolutely condemn [the attack], but you have to see it in the context of a violent three-month campaign," he said.
With access denied to state-run television and radio, the MDC has organized rallies as its only significant form of campaigning. Even that has been difficult in the rural heartland, where Mr. Mugabe traditionally has drawn his strongest following.
At least five major MDC rallies and dozens of lesser events were physically blocked last week by mobs of ZANU-PF supporters and independence war veterans who forced Mr. Tsvangirai to turn away.
In Zimbabwe's electoral system, Mr. Mugabe as president can appoint 30 members of parliament, meaning the MDC must win 76 of the 120 elected seats to control parliament.
The MDC is running strongly in some 40 urban and suburban seats but would need to pick up another 36 seats in the rural areas, where Mr. Mugabe's offer of land redistribution is most potent. A poll published on Friday suggested the MDC could win a total of 70 seats.
Eddie Cross, the MDC's secretary of economic affairs, predicted a sweep of 84 seats and told the London Daily Telegraph that an intermediary had approached Mr. Tsvangirai two weeks ago to propose a coalition government with ZANU-PF.
"We were asked if we would consider a government of national unity after the election. We interpret that as the first substantive sign that they know they are going to lose," he told the British newspaper.
Mr. Cross was quoted saying the offer was rejected because "we expect to win and a coalition with ZANU-PF would be very dangerous." Asked how Mr. Mugabe might react to a defeat, Mr. Cross said: "He will accept it and he will resign. This is the end of the Mugabe era. He will probably go next week."
The dissatisfaction with Mr. Mugabe stems largely from an economic collapse marked by high unemployment, crippling interest and inflation rates, corruption and fuel shortages that have brought much of the country to a standstill.
At his Saturday rally, his last major campaign event in Harare, Mr. Mugabe spoke for an hour about colonialism, the evils of the British, unfulfilled British aid promises and white influence within the MDC.
Only in the last 10 minutes did he mention the economic crisis, which he said was the fault of white businessmen who took advantage of the end of price controls six years ago.
"So we are now giving the government the power to limit the price of everything. No one will be allowed to raise the price of anything without government permission," Mr. Mugabe said.
That pledge, sure to further stir business anxiety, comes just days after he promised to begin nationalizing mines once he has completed the confiscation of white-owned farmland.

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