- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwean police briefly detained the country's main opposition leader yesterday, a day after President Robert Mugabe accused the opposition of terrorizing his supporters before the presidential elections.

Police said they detained Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), at 4:30 a.m. and held him at Harare central police station after finding a two-way radio during a search of his home.

He was released a short time later, police said.

"He was not arrested. He was merely called in connection with the security radio which requires a license," said police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena. "We had him for about 35 minutes and then released him after advising him that he remains obliged to produce the license."

The MDC said in a statement that the incident was part of an intimidation campaign against their leader. He poses the strongest electoral challenge to Mr. Mugabe, who has been in power for 21 years.

"All these incidents are part of ZANU-PF's (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) campaign strategy. They are carefully designed to throw his program off course and get him to think about his plight and not that of the people," the MDC said.

Mr. Mugabe, who officially began his campaign yesterday for re-election in March, said on Thursday that the MDC was a "terrorist" organization with no viable political program.

"The MDC has realized that its political message is not believable and has indeed resorted to terrorism to terrorizing our supporters and killing some of them with the aim of driving them away from our party ahead of the elections," Mr. Mugabe said at his party's annual congress.

Mr. Tsvangirai said Mr. Mugabe has become desperate as he faces an electorate battered by the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

The opposition blames the economic downturn on government mismanagement and Mr. Mugabe's controversial plan to seize thousands of white-owned farms for black resettlement.

The move has dramatically cut agricultural production in a country once considered the bread basket of the region.

The U.N. World Food Program issued an urgent appeal on Thursday for $54 million to buy food for more than half a million people in Zimbabwe, where supplies of the staple grain maize could run out before the end of this month.

Mr. Mugabe accuses his opponents, including Britain and other Western governments critical of his land-reform program, of sabotaging the economy.

Mr. Tsvangirai's party nearly defeated Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF in parliamentary elections last year.

The elections were marred by political violence that left 31 persons dead, most of them opposition supporters.

The MDC blamed the violence on militant ZANU-PF supporters, but the government accused the opposition of fomenting unrest.

In November, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court threw out charges of terrorism against Mr. Tsvangirai, ruling they contravened the country's constitution.

Mr. Tsvangirai had been charged with terrorism and sabotage after telling at a rally last year that Mr. Mugabe should quit or face violent removal.

Zimbabwe's woes have spilled over to regional neighbors like South Africa, where the local rand currency sank to a new low against the U.S. dollar on news of Mr. Tsvangirai's arrest.

The latest slide brings the rand's depreciation against the dollar so far this year to about 35 percent.

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