Zimbabweans have welcomed Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision on Sunday to withdraw from Friday’s run-off election, saying the move would “save lives” as pre-poll violence escalated.
The announcement cleared the way for Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite mounting condemnation from even loyal African allies that the former independence hero has become a despot who has bankrupted the country’s once thriving economy.
“We can’t ask the people to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote will cost their lives. We will no longer participate in this violent sham of an election,” Tsvangirai said.
He addressed a news conference in Zimbabwe’s capital after thousands of militants loyal to Mugabe prevented opposition supporters from gathering for its main campaign rally.
As night fell, militia groups roamed the capital and hotels sent their workers home early out of fear for their safety. Normally busy Sunday traders packed up early.
“This is the best move he could ever make. It will save many lives. We have got to a situation where we no longer know whether we will see each other tomorrow because of the violence” said Christine Shumba.
Shumba’s husband John said Tsvangirai’s decision “will save a lot of
“I failed to go to church this morning after ZANU-PF youths ordered everyone to attend their rally or risk being beaten,” he said, referring to the ruling party.
Tsvangirai, in announcing his decision, said violence had made a fair vote
impossible, claiming more than 80 of his party’s supporters had been killed in a campaign of intimidation.
The announcement came after his MDC national council met to debate whether to stay in the race, in which the party had hoped to topple Mugabe.
Tsvangirai’s announcement drew applause from party supporters attending the press conference at the opposition leader’s house.
Police sheer bystanders
Besides the claims about supporters being killed, the MDC also says 10,000 have been injured and 200,000 internally displaced. More than 20,000 homes have been destroyed by ruling party militias, they say.
“The police have been reduced to bystanders while ZANU-PF militias commit crimes against humanity, varying from rape, torture, murder, arson, abductions and other atrocities,” Tsvangirai said.
“Given the totality of these circumstances, we believe a credible election
which reflects the will of the people is impossible.”
Before Tsvangirai’s announcement, hordes of ruling party youths armed with whips and sticks gathered at the venue of a rally planned by the MDC on the outskirts of the capital. Tsvangirai had been expected to address supporters.