- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Zimbabwe’s ruthless crackdown on political opponents this week comes as deep divisions have emerged in the ruling party, which has kept President Robert Mugabe in power for more than a quarter-century.

Rivals within Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party in December blocked a bid to extend his term as president through 2010, and a new independent analysis said factions within the government and the opposition have already begun negotiating a plan to ease Mr. Mugabe from power.

“Mr. Mugabe’s long, successful, divide-and-rule tactics have started to backfire as the two main factions are coming together to try to prevent him from staying on beyond the expiration of his present term in March 2008,” according to a new report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday joined an international chorus condemning the arrest and beating of dozens of opposition leaders at an anti-government prayer meeting Sunday in a suburb outside Harare, the nation’s capital.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the anti-Mugabe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and fellow protesters appeared briefly in court yesterday in Harare before being sent to a hospital for treatment. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell was in the courtroom, the State Department said, but did not speak with the defendants.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s face was very swollen and he had a large gash on his head. He appeared disoriented and did not acknowledge cheers from supporters as he left the courthouse.

The defendants are expected back in court today to face formal charges.

Miss Rice demanded the “immediate and unconditional” release of Mr. Tsvangirai and other top MDC officials.

“The world community again has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive, and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe,” she said.

But South Africa and Zambia, two neighbors of Zimbabwe, issued far milder statements of concern.

South Africa’s foreign ministry in a statement called for Zimbabwe to “respect the rule of law.” Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said he was concerned about the reports of violence, but was still waiting for details.

“The political situation in Zimbabwe should be solved by Zimbabweans themselves,” said Mr. Mwanawasa, who takes over as chairman of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community in August.

Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled the country since its independence from Britain in 1980, has defied past predictions that he was on his way out. He has survived in power despite international isolation and an imploding economy with the world’s highest inflation, plummeting GDP and severe food shortages.

The 83-year-old president told a Namibian newspaper over the weekend he would run for an additional six-year term in 2008 if nominated.

But the International Crisis Group report, based on extensive interviews with both government and opposition figures, concluded that Mr. Mugabe’s hold on power was weaker than it has ever been.

International trade and travel boycotts have alienated key leaders within the ruling party, notably factions run by retired Gen. Solomon “Rex” Mujuru and former parliament Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa. They managed to block a vote at the ZANU-PF conference in December that would have kept Mr. Mugabe in power through 2010.

U.S. and European Union sanctions have helped fuel the palace rebellion, “since business interests of key officials are suffering,” the analysis found.

The opposition also appears to be recovering from a disastrous split in October 2005 over Mr. Tsvangirai’s leadership. Arthur Mutambara, president of the breakaway MDC faction, was also beaten and arrested at the Sunday meeting with Mr. Tsvangirai.

Private talks have already begun between the opposition and anti-Mugabe factions inside the government over a deal to ease the president out of office in 2008, set up a transitional government, draft a new constitution and hold elections.

“The long political stalemate in Zimbabwe appears to be breaking at last,” the report concludes.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide