By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Tsvangirai postpones Zimbabwe return after threat
Britain Northern Ir 6531003
Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, right, speaks at the Liberal International Congress in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Friday May 16, 2008. An election runoff between Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai will be held June 27, Zimbabwe's electoral commission said Friday. Tsvangirai claims he won the March 29 presidential race outright. But official results released May 2 show he did not win enough votes to avoid a second round against Mugabe. - photo by Associated Press
    JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s opposition leader was on the way to the airport when word came that assassins were awaiting him in his homeland Saturday, derailing plans for his return.
    It was unclear when Morgan Tsvangirai would return to rally his party and campaign for the presidency against longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
    The opposition and most observers say mounting violence and intimidation, mainly targeting opposition supporters, make it virtually impossible for a planned June 27 presidential runoff to be credible.
    ‘‘We have received information from a credible source concerning a planned assassination attempt on President Tsvangirai today,’’ spokesman George Sibotshiwe told The Associated Press. ‘‘Because of that it has been decided that the president will not return today.’’
    Sibotshiwe said the information came as Tsvangirai drove from his home to his office in Johannesburg, and his next stop would have been the airport. He consulted with his own security and other party officials before deciding, reluctantly, not to go home.
    Sibotshiwe would not identify the source other than to say he or she was in a position to know of the plot, which he said was striking in its detail. Sibotshiwe also refused to say whether Zimbabwean government officials were implicated in the plot, but he said the government had refused to address threats to Tsvangirai.
    He said the opposition was working with regional leaders instead of the government to organize body guards and safe vehicles in Zimbabwe for its leader.
    ‘‘It’s almost impossible to work with the Zimbabwean government,’’ Sibotshiwe said.
    Repeated attempts Saturday to reach Zimbabwean police for comment were unsuccessful.
    Tsvangirai had planned to address a party caucus in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, on Saturday and a rally in Bulawayo on Sunday. Other party officials would lead those events, Sibotshiwe said.
    Sibotshiwe said party officials would consult their own security experts and regional leaders for advice. He said Tsvangirai would return ‘‘at the earliest opportunity.’’
    Tsvangirai has survived three assassination attempts, including one in 1997 by unidentified assailants who tried to throw him from a 10th floor office window. Last year, he was hospitalized after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally, and images seen around the world of his bruised and swollen face have come to symbolize the plight of dissenters in Zimbabwe.
    Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change says that more than 30 of its supporters and activists have been killed since the first round of voting March 29, and that attacks are increasingly targeting its top leaders.
    Tsvangirai won the first round, but, according to official results, fell short of an outright majority.
    Tsvangirai claims he won the first round outright, but nonetheless agreed to take part in a runoff after the official results were announced May 2. He said, though, that the runoff should be held within three weeks of the announcement of results, as Zimbabwean law stipulates.
    Instead, Zimbabwe electoral officials announced Friday the runoff would be June 27, eight weeks after the results were announced, prompting concern that Mugabe’s force would use the time to orchestrate more attacks on opposition supporters.
    Sibotshiwe said that despite escalating violence, the late runoff date and now the assassination threat, Tsvangirai would take part in the runoff.
    ‘‘Withdrawing from the runoff would not assist the Zimbabwean people in the short or long term,’’ he said. ‘‘Withdrawing from the runoff would only hand power to Robert Mugabe.’’
    At a ruling party central committee meeting Friday, Mugabe said ZANU-PF must work hard for victory to ‘‘repair the damage’’ suffered March 29.
    He said the opposition was backed by ‘‘a hostile axis of powerful foreign governments’’ and global corporate enterprises looking to promote their own interests in Zimbabwe.
    Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, meanwhile, said no additional international observers would be allowed for the runoff, the state Herald reported, dismissing opposition calls for extra monitors.
    Mumbengegwi also said he summoned U.S. Ambassador James McGee to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday for a ‘‘dressing down’’ on alleged breaches of diplomatic protocol.
    On Tuesday, McGee led a group of ambassadors and diplomats on a trip outside Harare to visit two hospitals that had victims of political violence blamed on militants of Mugabe’s party, and an alleged torture camp.
    Mumbengegwi accused McGee’s group of not following regulations requiring diplomats to inform the ministry of plans to travel outside a 20 mile radius of Harare, a charge denied by U.S. officials.
    He said McGee also made ‘‘politically charged and inflammatory remarks’’ when visiting a clinic in Harare earlier this month where victims of political violence were being treated.
    Mumbengegwi said in future Zimbabwe would not hesitate to invoke international rules covering the conduct of diplomats that include recall of diplomats or expulsion.
    Associated Press Writer Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter