Zimbabweans are heckled into voting
Secretary of State Rice called it a ‘sham.’
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Roaming bands of government supporters heckled, harassed or threatened people into voting in a runoff election Friday in which President Robert Mugabe was the only candidate, ensuring he will remain in power despite international condemnation of the balloting as a sham.
Residents said they were forced to vote by threats of violence or arson from the Mugabe supporters, who searched for anyone without an ink-stained finger — the telltale sign that they had cast a ballot.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the runoff after an onslaught of state-sponsored violence against his Democratic Movement for Change, said the results would “reflect only the fear of the people.”
“What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation,” he said at a news conference.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the vote a “sham,” and said the United States would use its position as president of the U.N. Security Council until July 1 to drive international condemnation of Mugabe’s regime.
“Those operating in Zimbabwe should know that there are those ... who believe that the Security Council should consider sanctions,” she said at a meeting in Japan. “We intend to bring up the issue of Zimbabwe in the council. We will see what the council decides to do.”
The presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, in a rare comment about the affairs of another African country, said Zimbabwe’s one-candidate runoff “cannot be a solution” to the country’s political crisis. The presidents, at a regular summit of the East African Community held in Kigali, Rwanda, urged Mugabe’s and Tsvangirai’s parties “to come together and work out an amicable solution through dialogue in the interest of all Zimbabweans.”
Jacob Zuma, the head of South Africa’s African National Congress, said the situation in Zimbabwe was “extremely difficult and distressing.”
“We reiterate that the situation is now out of control,” he said in Johannesburg, South Africa, in one of the few times a senior South African politician has openly criticized Mugabe. “Nothing short of a negotiated political arrangement will get Zimbabwe out of the conflict it has been plunged into.”
European Union spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said the election result will be “hollow and meaningless.”
Reporters and independent observers in Harare saw low turnout. As polls closed at 7 p.m., officials at one Harare station said they hadn’t seen a voter for several hours.
Paramilitary police in riot gear deployed in a central Harare park, then began patrolling the city. Marshals led some voters to polls, and militant Mugabe supporters roamed the streets, singing revolutionary songs, heckling people and asking why they were not voting.
Human rights activist Dusani Ncube estimated that fewer than 2,000 people voted in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. But he said people in surrounding rural areas were told that if they did not vote, their homes would be burned down.
Human rights groups have said tens of thousands of rural Zimbabweans had been displaced by campaign violence and would not be able to vote.
“I’ve got no option but to go and vote so that I can be safe,” said a young woman selling tomatoes in Harare.
A gunman in civilian clothes was seen attacking a TV news cameraman and the voter he was interviewing on a Harare street, then forcing them into a police vehicle.
In addition, Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about a freelance reporter and cameraman who were arrested Friday while covering Mugabe at a polling station. The group said Frank Chikowore — who on a blog entry calls himself a Zimbabwean independent journalist — along with a cameraman who wasn’t fully identified were taken to a police station.