Zimbabwe's president calls for end to violence

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2011 11:16 AM
Zimbabwe's president calls for end to violence

Zimbabwe's longtime ruler on Friday called for an end to political violence and intimidation after an upsurge in unrest blamed mainly on his party militants.

President Robert Mugabe called for free political activities without threats of violence ahead of elections proposed next year to bring the country's shaky power-sharing coalition to an end. Campaign rallies by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party were violently disrupted over the past two weeks.

Mugabe, addressing politicians and lawmakers mostly in the local Shona language, challenged political leaders to find perpetrators of violence and turn them in to face punishment.

He said whatever "political coat" Zimbabweans wore or whatever political allegiances they followed should be tolerated.

"Teach them, yes, persuade them to support you, yes, but don't unleash violence," he said.

Mugabe spoke during a meeting of coalition leaders in Harare called by an all party committee tasked with tackling disputes in the coalition.

Tsvangirai's own mass rally in Harare on Nov. 6 was called off under siege from Mugabe militants known as Chipangano, or "blood brotherhood pact" in the Shona language. More than 20 people were injured, vehicles were damaged and property and cash were stolen as police looked on, said an independent research and legal monitoring group, Veritas, in its latest bulletin Thursday.

On Nov. 1 police overreacted to "a trivial incident" outside Tsvangirai's party headquarters and "beat up people, entered and fired tear gas into the building, threatened and tear gassed bystanders going about their business and brought the entire nearby city center to a standstill as citizens ran for cover," Veritas said.

Veritas monitors said in the bulletin that armed police stopped two rallies by Tsvangirai in western Zimbabwe last month even though court orders allowed them to proceed. Two weeks ago, supporters of Mugabe's party disrupted a rally in Harare of Tsvangirai's co-minister in charge of policing and law and order without police at the scene intervening. Police loyal to Mugabe ignored orders by the co-minister, to whom they should answer, to round up youth militia accused of disrupting that event.

Tsvangirai's party says the targeting of its meetings and headquarters coincides with attacks and harassment of its individual activists.

Addressing Friday's gathering of Mugabe and coalition leaders, Tsvangirai said all perpetrators of violence must be brought to justice.

"The police must protect people, not harm them. They are at the forefront of perpetrating violence and intimidating people," Tsvangirai said.

Mugabe has been in power for more than 30 years, and entered into the troubled coalition government with longtime opposition leader Tsvangirai in 2009.