- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe The government stepped up its pre-election intimidation over the weekend, briefly arresting 17 opposition activists and forcing white farmers to chant slogans at a rally of the governing party.

President Robert Mugabe's sister Sabina Mugabe said meanwhile that veterans of the war that ended white rule in 1980 would take up arms and return to the bush if the governing party is defeated in parliamentary balloting scheduled for June 24 and 25.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), urged some 4,000 supporters at a rally yesterday to stand up to the intimidation by the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

"People should not allow themselves to be chased away. We all are faced with this fear thing. No one is safe and we should act in self-defense," he said in the Harare suburb of Glen View.

Participants who attended a ZANU-PF rally yesterday at Hilbre Farm, about 18 miles west of Harare, said 15 white farmers were forced to transport their laborers to the campaign rally and then ordered to chant ruling party slogans in front of a crowd of about 5,000 people.

A spokesman for the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents Zimbabwe's embattled white farmers, said its members were increasingly being forced to bring their workers to such rallies, to attend themselves and to make campaign donations to the party.

The Hilbre Farm rally was addressed by Mrs. Mugabe, a member of parliament from Mashonaland West province, who defended a violent wave of farm invasions in which war veterans and other ZANU-PF supporters have forcibly occupied white-owned land.

"The general message was, 'If you don't vote for ZANU-PF, the war vets will go back to the bush and start the war again," said one person who attended the rally.

Opposition spokesman Topper Whitehead said 17 party supporters were arrested on Saturday for using a megaphone to promote yesterday's MDC rally at Glen View. They were fined and released yesterday.

"This shows the election cannot be free and fair," Mr. Whitehead said. "It is pure harassment… . We've been denied radio, we've been denied television, we've even been denied a loud-hailer."

Political violence by ZANU-PF supporters has left 22 people dead in recent weeks. A 23rd man, white MDC organizer Alan Dunn, was killed by unknown people.

MDC legal adviser David Coltart said government supporters had attacked 10 of the party's 120 parliamentary candidates, including Blessing Chibundo, an occupational health worker who is running in the district held by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mr. Chibundo said a group of five, led by a local ZANU-PF activist, knocked him down at a bus stop in the central town of Kwekwe and poured gasoline over him in a bid to set him on fire.

"I was lucky that the first matchstick they were trying to use broke. I rose and head-butted one of them, and the lot ran to a waiting truck," he said.

A few days later, his house was burned to the ground, he said. "Luckily, I had moved out my family, but all I have left now is what I am putting on."

Representatives of the two leading parties were to meet before a judge in Harare today regarding an MDC lawsuit challenging the government's handling of the elections.

Mr. Coltart said the parties are required to name their candidates with nominating signatures from registered voters by no later than May 29. But the government has not yet issued a list of registered voters or even determined the boundaries of the electoral districts, making compliance impossible.

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