- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwean police invoked special powers Thursday under a colonial-era law to restrict political activity, campaign rallies and the movement of political party supporters.

Opposition leaders denounced the move as an attempt to help the party of President Robert Mugabe win parliamentary elections planned for later this year.

For weeks, a nationwide campaign of nighttime beatings of farm workers and attacks on opposition-party supporters by backers of the ruling ZANU-PF party have drawn no response from Zimbabwean police.

Victims claim police often stood by and watched the attacks without intervening.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri invoked the colonial Law and Order Maintenance Act to restrict campaigning in an attempt to halt the violence.

He said he was invoking three sections of the act to restrict the movements of political parties and ban public gatherings that threaten law and order.

The move came as talks between Britain and Zimbabwe in London broke off with no agreement on British funding for land reform in the African nation.

Britain had earlier announced it was willing to pay an additional $57 million for the purchase of land from white farmers, whose lands have been overrun in a recent wave of killings.

But Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, speaking Thursday at the end of eight hours of talks in London with Zimbabwean ministers, said there could be no resumption of talks until violence and invasions of white-owned farms ended.

There was no immediate comment from the Zimbabwean delegation.

The measure invoked by Zimbabwean police Thursday makes it illegal to ferry supporters to meetings, public gatherings or processions unless such events are being officiated by the presidents of political parties, Commissioner Chihuri said.

The act was drafted in the 1960s and was used by the then-Rhodesian white minority government against black nationalist movements fighting for independence.

Commissioner Chihuri declined to comment when asked whether police would intervene in the land crisis or halt political violence perpetrated by war veterans against opposition supporters on occupied farms.

He said land invasions were a political matter to be solved by the governments of Zimbabwe and Britain.

The announcement came a day after Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), warned that violence against his supporters had gone too far.

"The MDC will no longer sit back and watch our supporters being killed. We shall devise a strategy to defend ourselves. We shall take this violence to their doorstep."

Following Commissioner Chihuri's announcement Thursday, Mr. Tsvangirai said: "The whole strategy is to curtail and curb the process of the Movement of Democratic Change, which has been gathering momentum. We will take it to the Supreme Court."

Commissioner Chihuri said both ZANU-PF and MDC were equally guilty of violence, remarks that drew sustained laughter from reporters.

In nine weeks of political violence, 14 persons have been killed including 11 MDC supporters. Hundreds have been beaten or had their houses burned for allegiance to MDC.

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