Zimbabwe opposition: Military plotting to kill leader
NAIROBI, Kenya — Zimbabwe’s opposition party on Monday accused the country’s military of plotting to assassinate presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai using snipers.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said Tsvangirai planned to return to Zimbabwe to contest the June 27 runoff election once security measures are in place to protect him.
The opposition said last Saturday it had received details of the alleged assassination plot as Tsvangirai was on his way to the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, to return home.
“The assassination plot involves snipers,” party Secretary-General Tendai Biti told The Associated Press after a news conference in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Monday. He said 18 snipers were involved in the alleged plot.
“It is the military [plotting], the JOC (Joint Operational Command) that has been running the country since the March 29 election,” Biti said. “I cannot speak [more] of that because it would put a lot of lives at risk.”
Tsvangirai has survived three assassination attempts, including one in 1997 by unidentified assailants who tried to throw him from a 10th floor office window. Last year, he was hospitalized after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally, and images seen around the world of his bruised and swollen face have come to symbolize the plight of dissenters in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai says he won the March presidential election outright against longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, but official results and those compiled by independent monitors show Tsvangirai did not win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.
Next month’s runoff was “merely extending and exacerbating the crisis” and would legitimize “Mugabe’s constitutional coup,” he said.
But Biti said the opposition would take part, as not doing so would hand victory to 84-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 28 years.
“The basic problem is that we have an old man, a geriatric, who is not prepared to give up power and that situation isn’t going to change on June 27,” Biti said.
Biti also condemned African leaders’ failure to confront Mugabe, using the strongest terms yet used by his party.
“What’s concerning us is this lack of statesmanship, of leadership by African leaders,” he said. “I think that the paralysis of leadership and perspective lies [with] certain officers indebted to Robert Mugabe.”
Mugabe’s credentials as the leader of a liberation movement that fought a seven-year guerrilla war to force an end to white rule in 1980 still enhances his stature among many Africans.
But leaders have been divided by this year’s crisis and the violent government response, which human rights defenders say has killed dozens, injured hundreds and forced thousands from their homes.
Biti’s party has asked the Southern African Development Organization to replace South African President Thabo Mbeki as its chief negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.
Mbeki’s insistence on “quiet diplomacy” to persuade Mugabe to change has largely failed, though his negotiations that led to election results being posted outside ballot stations did ensure a more open process that allowed the opposition to claim victory.
International efforts to intervene have been hampered by Mbeki and South Africa’s current chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.
“The Zimbabwe crisis is exposing every leader on the African continent, embarrassing us as Africans because we are not able to resolve our own problems,” Biti said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that the U.S. is working closely with Zimbabwe’s neighbors “to help ensure that there are the proper conditions for a free and fair runoff election.”
Those conditions, he said, include making sure international monitors are present, the election commission is independent, the army is not intimidating the opposition, there is free access for the media and the opposition can move freely without the threat of violence.