Zim govt escalating crackdown, says MDC

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party said on Tuesday that President Robert Mugabe’s government was escalating a violent crackdown against its members, but said it would not walk away from talks with the ruling party.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told journalists the opposition was worried by increased cases of violence against its supporters.

”We have witnessed an escalation in the number of assaults, violence and intimidation against our members, particularly in the rural areas, but also in the urban areas,” Chamisa said.

Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the MDC are holding talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki as part of a regional drive to end Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.

The negotiations yielded a compromise constitutional amendment last month, which would allow Mugabe to pick a successor if he retired mid-term, but the president’s powers to choose members of Parliament have been curbed.

Chamisa said the fresh attacks were worrying.

”This is particularly worrying if you consider the process going on in South Africa. There’s no use to be in talks in Pretoria and at war here at home.”

He said the MDC would not pull out of the talks to protest against the government crackdown. Opposition officials have recorded over 4 122 political violence cases since January.

”We know Zanu-PF is trying to jeopardise the process, but we want the process to benefit the nation,” said Chamisa, adding that several MDC meetings had been cancelled or interfered with by the police.

The government has also accused the opposition of carrying out and fomenting violence.

Zimbabwe’s tough security laws require political parties to notify the police when holding political gatherings, but the opposition says police often ban the meetings without reason.

On Tuesday, anti-riot police broke up a march by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a pressure group that is pushing for a new constitution.

A Reuters correspondent saw a small group of placard-waving protesters singing revolutionary songs and denouncing the recent constitutional changes, before they broke up when police arrived on the scene, warning them to disperse.

No arrests were reported and NCA officials were not immediately available for comment.

Mugabe (83), in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies charges of human rights abuses and mismanaging a once vibrant economy, now with world’s highest inflation rate.

‘We cannot compromise’

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe will not allow foreigners to own broadcasting stations, but could relax rules and licence locals who have been battling to meet stringent requirements, the information minister said on Monday.

”On the issue of ownership we cannot compromise,” Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told a committee of lawmakers.

”Why should a foreigner want to own a voice in Zimbabwe? The government policy on broadcasting seeks to achieve strategic goals. We seek to expose those we perceive as adversaries and win over those we see as useful allies.

”Broadcasting seeks to build national cohesion, consensus and defence, especially this time when the country’s sovereignty is being challenged by our erstwhile colonisers.”

Zimbabwe passed tough media laws in 2002, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which has been invoked to expel foreign correspondents, shut down four newspapers and emasculate a once-vibrant independent press.

Broadcasting laws passed in 2003 have protected the monopoly of state television and radio, which echo the voice of veteran President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Although the law allows private companies to operate radio and television stations, prospective broadcasters have been hamstrung by stringent licensing requirements, including a clause that disallows foreign funding for local media companies.

Ndlovu said the government was considering relaxing the laws in favour of potential local broadcasters.

”We will continue inviting applications and if they continue to fail and they are capable Zimbabweans, we will consider softening the licensing criteria,” he said. — Reuters, AFP

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