Zimbabwe's Main Opposition Leader Freed

Thursday, March 29th 2007, 8:00 am
By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The country's main opposition leader was freed after being held by police for several hours, party officials said Thursday, as southern African leaders gathered in Tanzania to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Police denied arresting Morgan Tsvangirai Wednesday as he prepared to talk to reporters about a wave of political violence that left him briefly hospitalized earlier this month.

``It doesn't matter how long he was deprived of his freedom, he was still arrested,'' Tsvangirai's aide, Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, told The Associated Press Thursday.

Tsvangirai, 54, had been arrested earlier this month along with about 50 other people as opposition, church, student and civic groups tried to stage a prayer meeting. His supporters said police smashed his head against a wall repeatedly.

State radio said Mugabe had left for Tanzania to attend a Thursday meeting of the Southern African Development Community on the political turmoil in Zimbabwe amid concerns the crisis could threaten regional stability.

Ruling party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told state radio that Mugabe would brief the Tanzania meeting about violence in the country and the arrests of activists.

On Wednesday, police told state media that they had seized weapons and explosive and arrested 10 activists at the Movement for Democratic Change's headquarters in Harare. Police displayed explosives, detonators and two handguns on state television Wednesday night that they alleged were found at the home of two arrested opposition officials.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police found 53 sticks of dynamite and 35 detonators in the Harare home of one of the officials, Piniel Denga. Bvudzijena said the dynamite was similar to that used in a gasoline attack on a train Friday.

``We are not witch-hunting. We are carrying out investigations and they are very thorough,'' he said.

Officials with the Movement for Democratic Change denied the allegations.

``The MDC does not have any arsenal of weapons or armed movement; the story is not credible,'' Mukonoweshuro said.

Police said they had arrested a total of 35 opposition members in recent days, saying they belonged to ``democratic resistance committees.''

Alec Mmuchadehama, a lawyer acting for the opposition, said the legal team was investigating the reported arrests but had been denied access to those detained.

The United States said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was trying to intimidate legitimate political opposition.

In Washington Wednesday, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey urged southern African nations to make clear that Mugabe's actions were unacceptable. He should be called to account, Casey said, for his misrule ``not only over the last few weeks but over the last few years.''

The comments echoed statements from the European Union and Human Rights Watch.

Before leaving for Tanzania, Mugabe held a meeting of his politburo, the ruling party's highest policy-making body, to discuss whether to hold national elections in 2008 or 2010.

Shamuyarira said Mugabe, who has pushed for a delay until 2010 that would lengthen his rule, expressed willingness to run if nominated.

The radio report said the party would go ahead with elections regardless of whether the opposition takes part. On Tuesday, Tsvangirai said he would boycott a presidential election scheduled for next year unless it was carried out under a new democratic constitution that ensures it is free and fair.

Mugabe, 83, is under growing pressure to step down as leader of the country he has ruled since independence in 1980. Tensions are said to be rising in his party over his succession, and the opposition blames him for the country's corruption and acute shortages of food, hard currency and gasoline.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which is linked to the opposition, has called for a national protest strike in early April, before Zimbabwe's 27th anniversary of independence.