Nearly 200 Zimbabwean Opposition Released

Women and children from Nyamapanda about 300 kilometres north of Harare, attend a press conference in Harare, Tuesday, April, 29, 2008.
AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Police on Tuesday released nearly 200 people who were arrested last week in a raid on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change headquarters, a lawyer said.

Police had arrested 215 people on Friday, many of whom had fled to Harare to escape mounting violence and intimidation in rural areas that used to be ruling party strongholds but turned against President Robert Mugabe in the March 29 elections.

Twenty-nine people, mainly women and children, were released almost immediately. Opposition defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said the rest were freed from various police stations in the capital Tuesday, in accordance with a High Court order issued Monday.

"All have been released," he told The Associated Press.

He said there were no immediate signs that police had tortured detainees, but that he had not yet seen all those released.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council was due to discuss the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe later Tuesday in closed session.

Meanwhile, the European Union urged China and other African nations to stop supplying weapons to Zimbabwe for Mugabe's armed forces. The call came after a ship with Chinese weapons destined for Zimbabwe was turned away by South Africa, Mozambique and Angola last week.

"It's about making sure there is an international effort to stop arms going to Zimbabwe, until such time the situation has been resolved and democracy is allowed to run its course," Britain's Europe Minister Jim Murphy said in Luxembourg, where EU foreign ministers were meeting.

"There should be a government that the people voted for, so the election results should be released and those who won those elections should be put in office," he said.

Results from the presidential election still have not been declared. Independent observers say that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe, but did not secure an outright majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai insists he did. Mugabe has stayed silent.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission concluded the recount of 23 disputed parliamentary seats Monday and would thereafter "invite presidential candidates or their election agents for the verification and collation of the results," according to Tuesday's state-run Herald newspaper.

State radio reported that the verification process would take at least three more days.

Despite fears of vote-rigging during the parliamentary recount, the published results confirmed that the opposition held a majority of seats for the first time in Zimbabwe's history.

On Monday, Tsvangirai addressed a joint news conference with Arthur Mutambara, the head of a breakaway faction, to say they had healed their divisions and were now united against Mugabe.

"Old man, go and have an honorable exit," Tsvangirai said in a message to the 84-year-old autocrat who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

"In a parliamentary democracy, the majority rule," Tsvangirai said alongside Mutambara at the news conference at a Johannesburg airport. "He should concede that ... he cannot be president."

The opposition leaders also appealed to the U.N. Security Council to send a special envoy to Zimbabwe and to warn Mugabe that the mounting violence against opposition supporters was tantamount to "crimes against humanity."

Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, was in New York for the Security Council meeting, although he was not expected to address the session, a closed-door briefing.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current Security Council president, played down the briefing, reflecting President Thabo Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy toward its troublesome neighbor.

"We don't expect anything to come out of it," Kumalo said. However, African nations and members of Mbeki's own party are increasingly outspoken at the long delay in releasing the results and the upsurge in violence.

Human Rights Watch said the U.N. Security Council should recognize that the state-sponsored violence was "a threat to regional peace and security."

It said that the ruling party, police and army have "sharply intensified a brutal campaign of organized terror and torture against perceived opposition supporters that threatens the general population."

Retaliatory attacks by the opposition risked further escalating tensions, said Human Rights Watch.

It said it had documented evidence that the government is actively arming and organizing groups of so-called "war veterans" and basing them at army barracks.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said more than 63 people were hospitalized in three days last week alone, and it provided shocking photos of injuries.

But the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, accused the opposition of fomenting violence. It said that some Tsvangirai supporters "attacked soldiers and the general public" in Manicaland Province. It said one person had been killed and two injured.

It said police suspected that perpetrators of the violence were being given refuge at opposition headquarters.