Mugabe launches crackdown ahead of runoff vote
Hundreds of war veterans – a potent force for President Mugabe – marched through Zimbabwe's capital Friday condemning the opposition for claiming it won the March 29 elections.
Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe
With riot police swooping in to arrest foreign journalists on Thursday evening, and separate police units raiding the Harare offices of the main opposition party, President Robert Mugabe seems to have signaled that he is not going to concede defeat in the March 29 elections easily.Skip to next paragraph
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On Friday, Mr. Mugabe's key allies – veterans of the 1970s liberation war against the former white-dominated government – marched through Harare and threatened to unleash chaos if he fell from power.
Meanwhile, Mugabe met with his top Politburo advisers, as well as other supporters, such as leaders of his youth militia wing, to decide the cabal's next steps.
Although official results for the presidential vote have not yet been released, most projections show that Mugabe lost the first round and would lose a fair runoff. With his hold on power so threatened, many observers expect a very difficult period ahead.
"This could be the beginning of a clampdown," says Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwe expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa is now called. "Now that all the foreign observers have left, [Mugabe] knows he can get a lot of things done, by arresting the media, and then targeting the opposition.
"What this shows is that Mugabe is preparing for the runoff, but he will do it on his terms," says Mr. Maroleng. "If it does become a clampdown, it will be sharp and vicious."
Mugabe's reliance on force
Mugabe has ordered many clampdowns before, in which journalists and opposition leaders have been arrested and beaten and whole communities have been terrorized with the use of armed gangs loyal to Mugabe and his ruling party, the ZANU-PF.
Shortly after the 2002 presidential elections, Mugabe had his nemesis – leader of the opposition Movemement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai – arrested and tried on charges of plotting to assassinate him. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence.
Mugabe's reliance on private militias – particularly war veterans – escalated after he lost a key constitutional referendum in 2000 that would have given the government the power to seize farms owned by whites and award them to black Zimbabweans.
Mugabe used war veterans to punish white farmers who supported the "No" vote in 2000 by allowing "land invasions" where the veterans surrounded white-owned farms and took the land by force.