Four opposition party activists were killed in a firebombing near Harare overnight, the party said yesterday, the attacks carried out even as South African President Thabo Mbeki was in Zimbabwe on a mediation mission.
The opposition has said more than 60 of its activists have been killed in recent weeks, and accuses Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of unleashing widespread violence to ensure victory over Movement for Democratic Change candidate Morgan Tsvangirai in a presidential runoff to be held in just over a week. Independent human rights activists have implicated police and soldiers as well as Mugabe party militants in the violence.
Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said that militants linked to Mugabe’s party were seen in the area before the firebomb attack at the home of one party activist. Mlilo said the activist and three colleagues were killed, an unusually high one-day toll.
Mugabe “is behaving like a warlord,” Mlilo said.
Attempts to reach Zimbabwean police for confirmation of the firebombing were not immediately successful.
On Wednesday, Mbeki held talks with Tsvangirai and then late into the night with Mugabe amid increasing international concern that the runoff next Friday would not be free and fair. Mbeki, who has steadfastly refused to publicly rebuke Mugabe, left late on Wednesday without speaking with reporters. His spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment yesterday.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded action on Wednesday.
“It is time for leaders of Africa to say to President Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe deserve a free and fair election,” she said in Washington after a meeting with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga — one of the few African leaders who has criticized Mugabe.
On Wednesday, Zimbabwean opposition No. 2, Tendai Biti, was brought to court in leg irons on charges of treason and other counts the opposition says are politically motivated. Opposition lawyer Lewis Uriri said the hearing was postponed until yesterday because a lack of electricity meant recording equipment could not work — a symptom of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown, which has led to dizzying inflation and chronic shortages of most basic supplies.
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