Saturday, April 5, 2008
Leading figures in Zimbabwe's party today backed Robert Mugabe for a runoff vote against the main opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, if neither won an absolute majority in last week's elections.
The Zanu-PF administration secretary, Didymus Mutasa, said the party had endorsed a runoff if necessary.
The decision, in which Zanu-PF hardliners won out, came after a five-hour meeting of the party politburo to decide whether to concede defeat or fight on.
Official results have yet to be released – six days after the presidential vote – and the ruling Zanu-PF party has also said votes would be recounted in disputed areas.
The main opposition party has also tried to force officials to release election results using the legal system. A high court in Zimbabwe will hear an application at 9am tomorrow morning by the MDC, to try to pressure officials to release election results "within four hours of the court order", an MDC party official said tonight.
Following the party's electoral reverses, senior aides to the Zimbabwean president approached the MDC.
They said Mugabe was prepared to step down in return for an amnesty from prosecution for crimes such as the Matebeleland massacres in the 1980s and other guarantees.
However, it was unclear whether the approach was a delaying tactic while Mugabe weighed up his options under considerable pressure from different factions within Zanu-PF's politburo.
Parts of the security establishment favoured holding out for a second round of presidential elections.
They believe Zanu-PF can claw back support, perhaps with a campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition – a tactic that has worked in previous elections.
Mugabe also heard from some senior political figures who believed there was no hope of the party winning the election and thought it should seek the best possible deal with the opposition.
Tsvangirai today told diplomats he had had direct contact with army chiefs who have told him they will uphold the constitution. If so, that would add to the pressure on Mugabe to go quietly.
Veterans of Zimbabwe's guerrilla war for black rule marched through the capital in what appeared to be a show of force today, but the country otherwise appeared generally calm as people awaited the official election results.
The long delay in their release has fuelled fears that they are being massaged in Mugabe's favour.
The opposition says its tallies show that Tsvangirai won an absolute majority and should be declared president immediately.
Amid rumours that security forces planned to crack down on the opposition, George Sibotshiwe, a Tsvangirai spokesman, denied that the MDC leader had gone into hiding.
"He had a meeting with diplomats today and he is in his offices," he told Reuters. "He has no reason to hide."
Senate results - which must precede the presidential outcome - only began trickling out last night.
Any runoff election should be held on April 19, three weeks after the elections, but some MDC sources say Mugabe planned to extend that to 90 days to give him time to regroup.
However, senior opposition sources said the aides warned that if the Movement for Democratic Change did not agree, Mugabe could declare emergency rule and force another presidential election in 90 days.
The opposition said the MDC leadership was in direct talks with the highest levels of the army, but was treating the approach with caution because it distrusted the individuals involved.
It has called instead for direct contact with the president, fearing delaying tactics.
Those fears were reinforced yesterday when, at one point, Zimbabwe's election commission abruptly halted the release of official results from Saturday's elections for "logistical reasons" and the police raided opposition offices.
Also yesterday, police arrested two Americans, one of whom was Barry Bearak, a New York Times correspondent.
The other works for the National Democratic Institute, a US organisation that monitors elections and promotes democracy worldwide.
Two other US citizens have been freed, the US state department said, but gave no further details.
Evidence is accumulating that the Chinese regime orchestrated violence in Lhasa in order to discredit the peaceful protests of Buddhist monks.
According to the Dalai Lama’s Chinese translator, Ngawang Nyendra, a witness reported that a Chinese policeman in Lhasa disguised himself as a Tibetan and joined the protesters holding a knife in his hand. This witness also recognized the man from BBC news footage and news photos provided by China.
A Chinese woman from Thailand (who prefers that her name not be used) was studying in Lhasa when the protests broke out in March. As one of her friends is a policeman, she visited him at the local police station quite often and got to know other policemen there.
(Photo: The upper portion shows the uncropped photo distributed to news media by the Chinese Embassy, with a Chinese policeman in disguise holding a knife;
The lower portion, the edited version of the same scene distributed by the Chinese Embassy after the man’s identity was revealed at a rally in Darmasala/ from the Epochtimes website)
After the protests on March 14, she and other foreigners were sent to the police station where she saw a man with a knife in his hand walking in with some arrested Tibetans. The man later took off the Tibetan-style clothes and put on a police uniform.
This woman was sent out of Lhasa with other foreigners the next day. When she arrived in India via Nepal, she recognized the policeman she had seen in Tibetan garb from BBC TV news and photos that the Chinese embassy had provided to the media.
Ngawang Nyendra said the witness was shocked when she saw the policeman in the BBC broadcast. She realized then that the man had disguised himself as a Tibetan in order to incite people to riot.
(photo: Cropped copy of the Chinese policeman that was released by the Chinese Embassy purporting to show a Tibetan with a knife taking part in a riot/ from the Epochtimes website)
The witness contacted a Tibetan organization in India and told them what she had seen. At a rally on March 17, the organization publicized a news photo originally provided by the Chinese Embassy in India in which the policeman appeared as a Tibetan rioter.
On Xinhua and other Chinese-language Web sites friendly to the regime, after the rally at which the witness spoke, the policeman in disguise had disappeared from photos taken at the same scene in which he had previously been visible. Recently, the original man-with-the-knife photo has returned to these Web sites.
Ngawang Nyendra said, “This photo with this man in it was sent by the Chinese embassy to BBC and Radio Free Asia. The other photo was sent out later. They are exactly the same except the man has disappeared from the second photo.
“From the TV news footage, you can see this man attempting to stab other people with a knife. But in later shots you can’t find this person any more. They were acting. After people raised questions about these shots, this footage never appeared on TV again.”
The main claim of the dramatic story told last week by the Dalai Lama’s translator— that the Chinese regime incited the riots in Lhasa— has lately found corroboration from other sources.
There is first of all the Chinese regime’s track record of staging this kind of deception.
This is not the first time that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sent policemen to act as rioters in civilian protests in Tibet to stir up violence and frame the protesters.
In his “Events in Lhasa March 2-10, 1989″, the Chinese journalist Tang Daxian revealed how the CCP orchestrated violence as part of a plan to suppress the 1989 protests in Tibet.
According to the article, “On the dawn of March 5, the Armed Police in Tibet received the action order from the Chief Commander of Armed Police headquarter, Mr. Li Lianxiu.…The Special Squad should immediately assign 300 members to be disguised as ordinary citizens and Tibetan monks, entering the Eight-Corner Street and other riot spots in Lhasa, to support plain-clothes police to complete the task.
“Burn the Scripture Pagoda at the northeast of Dazhao Temple. Smash the rice store in the business district, incite citizens to rob rice and food, attack the Tibet-Gansu Trading Company. Encourage people to rob store products, but, only at the permitted locations.”
According to the commentator Mr. Chen Pokong, “In this year’s protest, the riot scene was quite similar to that of 1989. A group of young men in their twenties acted in a well organized way. They first shouted slogans, then burnt some vehicles near the Ramoche Monastery, and then broke into nearby stores and robbed them, and finally burnt scores of the stores.
“The actions seemed well planned and coordinated, and were conducted with skill. At the crossroads near the Ramoche Monastery, someone prepared in advance many stones of a similar size, each weighing a couple of kilograms. These stones magically escaped the attention of numerous policemen and plainclothes agents who flooded the city.”
Mr. Chen’s account of what happened this year is corroborated by the British high-tech spy agency GCHQ, whose satellites observed Chinese police incite the riots in Lhasa, according to a report in the G2 Bulletin.
These accounts also help make sense of puzzling aspects of a report in the New York Times on the scene on the streets of Lhasa on March 14.
According to the NY Times, “Foreigners and Lhasa residents who witnessed the violence were stunned by what they saw, and by what they did not see: the police. Riot police officers fled after an initial skirmish and then were often nowhere to be found.”
“One monk reached by telephone said other monks noticed that several officers were more interested in shooting video of the violence than stopping it. ‘They were just watching,’ the monk said. ‘They tried to make some videos and use their cameras to take some photos,’” according to the NY Times.
The publication of the photo of the man with the knife by Xinhua and its distribution by the Chinese Embassy, as reported by the Dalai Lama’s translator, would be consistent with this monk’s observation.
Meanwhile, the Tibetans continue to assert that the Chinese regime has been hoodwinking the world about what happened during the protests in Lhasa.
30 young monks broke into a press briefing behind held on Thursday by the Chinese regime in Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. According to USA Today reporter Callum MacLeod (as reported by Reuters), the young monks shouted, “Don’t believe them. They are tricking you. They are telling lies.”
With reporting by Stephen Gregory and Hao Feng
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Security agents and paramilitary police in riot gear are surrounding a Harare hotel housing foreign journalists.
A man answering the phone at the hotel says they are taking away some reporters.
The man refused to give his name but said about 30 police entered the hotel Thursday and were preparing to take away four or five journalists.
Foreign journalists have been in Zimbabwe to cover elections in which President Robert Mugabe's party lost control of parliament. He is apparently facing a runoff for the presidency.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — State media gave Zimbabweans a hint of how President Robert Mugabe's embattled party might wage its campaign for a presidential runoff, with stories Thursday portraying the opposition as divided and controlled by former colonial ruler Britain.
Mugabe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said the 84-year-old leader was ready for a runoff. The opposition claims it won the presidential race outright, and official results show it won the most parliament seats.
"President Mugabe is going to fight. He is not going anywhere. He has not lost," Matonga told the British Broadcasting Corp. "We are going to go hard and fight and get the majority required."
Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped force an end to white minority rule in Rhodesia and bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. On Thursday, he was shown on state television meeting African Union election observers, his first public appearance since the elections.
While the election commission has issued results for the parliamentary races held alongside the presidential race, it has yet to release any presidential count.
"We need to see an official tally, see it soon and have assurances made that this is actually a correct counting of the votes," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Independent observers say their own projection based on results posted at a representative sample of polling stations showed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff, which would have to be held within 21 days of the first round.
A commission member indicated presidential results would be announced Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The commission said it still was receiving ballot boxes from the provinces, raising questions about where those votes had been since Saturday's elections, amid charges there was a plot to rig the results. Western election observers have accused Mugabe of stealing previous elections.
On Wednesday, official election returns showed Mugabe's ZANU-PF party had lost its parliamentary majority. The state-owned Herald newspaper, which reflects government and ruling party thinking, said Thursday the parliamentary race was a "photo finish" and stressed the split in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Tsvangirai loyalists won seats, as did members of a breakaway MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara.
Mugabe has overseen the destruction of a thriving economy. The unraveling began when he ordered the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, ostensibly to return them to the landless black majority. Instead, Mugabe replaced a white elite with a black one, giving the farms to relatives, friends and cronies who allowed cultivated fields to be taken over by weeds.
Today, a third of the population depends on imported food handouts. Another third has fled the country and 80 percent is jobless. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 percent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years.
Still, about half of Zimbabweans who voted in weekend elections chose the ruling ZANU-PF party.
On Thursday, The Herald charged that Tsvangirai would hand back farmland to the whites. Tsvangirai has not said that, promising instead an equitable distribution of land to people who know how to farm.
The Herald said white farmers had returned from Zambia and Mozambique and were threatening to evict blacks. It quoted the war veterans association that spearheaded violent land grabs as saying, "We will be left with no option except to take up arms and defend our pieces of land."
Mugabe blames former colonizer Britain and other Western nations for the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy. Targeted Western sanctions, though, only involve visa bans and frozen bank accounts for Mugabe and about 100 of his allies.
Mugabe calls opposition leaders stooges and puppets of Britain. The Herald said "the British government and Prime Minister Gordon Brown have now come out in the open as the real power behind MDC-Tsvangirai."
Religious leaders and diplomats were involved in a flurry of initiatives Thursday to try to persuade Mugabe to step down. Diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said Western leaders were contacting southern African leaders. Amani Countess of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum said religious leaders also were asking counterparts in the region to pressure presidents to approach Mugabe.