Zimbabwe police say more than 200 opposition activists and officials arrested on Saturday are suspects in recent petrol-bomb attacks on police stations, shops and some government supporters.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says allegations that its supporters have launched a violent campaign against President Robert Mugabe’s 27-year rule are designed to justify a brutal crackdown on its structures ahead of general elections next year.
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said riot police, armed with pistols and batons, raided the party’s head office in Harare on Saturday and detained more than 200 people, and gave no reason for the move at the time.
But on Sunday, police spokesperson Andrew Phiri told Zimbabwe state media they had detained MDC activists ”suspected of being involved in a criminal bombing campaign”. The activists will be taken to court in the coming days.
”A number of MDC activists have been arrested as suspects in the recent spate of bomb attacks across the country — criminal bombing attacks,” he said, without giving details on the number of detentions.
Mugabe’s Zanu-PF administration has routinely deployed police riot squads to crush anti-government rallies in the Southern African country that is suffering from severe shortages of food and fuel.
An MDC MP and 31 other party activists were detained in March and are awaiting trial on charges of terrorism, banditry and sabotage.
”We are hunting for more suspects following leads supplied by those who have already been arrested,” Phiri said.
But Chamisa said the arrests on Saturday were part of a drive to cripple the MDC ahead of parliamentary, presidential and local council elections due by March next year.
”Our position remains that this is a campaign to destroy us before the elections, and that the so-called MDC violence is being stage-managed by the government to justify this crackdown,” he said.
The Saturday arrests came a day after Zimbabwe extended a ban on political protests in Harare that the country’s embattled opposition has likened to ”a state of emergency”.
Veteran Zimbabwean leader Mugabe has come under heavy criticism for the new clampdown on the opposition, which he accuses of trying to organise ”terrorist” government protests he says are bankrolled by some Western countries.
But Mugabe remains defiant, blaming Zimbabwe’s economic crisis on sabotage by his opponents and threatening to deal harshly with any attempt to overthrow him unconstitutionally.
The 83-year-old Mugabe accuses the MDC of being stooges of Zimbabwe’s former colonial power Britain in an effort to oust his government as punishment for seizing and redistributing white-owned commercial farms to landless blacks.
But critics say Mugabe’s economic policies have sent the once-prosperous nation into a crisis marked by inflation of more than 3 700% and unemployment of more than 80%. — Reuters