- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe | President Robert Mugabe’s regime struck at the opposition leadership Thursday, only two weeks before Zimbabwe’s presidential runoff election, twice detaining his challenger and jailing the No. 2 opposition official to face treason charges.

U.S. Ambassador James McGee, meanwhile, said authorities seized last week 20 tons of American food aid heading to impoverished Zimbabwean children and distributed it to Mugabe supporters at a rally.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who led the opening round of presidential voting 2 1/2 months ago and faces the increasingly autocratic Mr. Mugabe in a June 27 runoff, was stopped at a roadblock in the south and held at a police station for about two hours, his party said.

The party said Mr. Tsvangirai went back to campaigning but was stopped later by another group of police. It was the third and fourth times in recent weeks that he was detained while running against Mr. Mugabe, the longtime ruler increasingly unpopular for repressive ways and a wrecked economy.

But the biggest blow was aimed at Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who was arrested at Harare airport upon returning from South Africa. Police said he would be charged with treason, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said the treason charge related to a “transition document” discussing changing Zimbabwe’s government.

He said Mr. Biti also would be charged with making false statements “prejudicial to the state.” That charge refers to accusations that Mr. Biti announced election results before the official count was released. Under Zimbabwean law, only the electoral commission can announce results.

Mr. Bvudzijena said Mr. Biti was in police custody but would not say where.

Mr. Biti’s detention robs the opposition of one of its most impassioned spokesmen. He has led on-and-off talks with Mr. Mugabe’s party, and his arrest may signal Mr. Mugabe’s final rejection of the possibility of negotiating Zimbabwe out of its political and economic crisis.

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