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By Peta Thornycroft
Harare
27 May 2008

As Zimbabwe braces itself for a runoff in the presidential election, violence against people loyal to the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, has reached unprecedented levels. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Tuesday that more than 50 people have been killed in political violence since Zimbabwe's disputed March 29 elections and over 25,000 people displaced. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft has this report.

Morgan Tsvangirai, President of Zimbabwe's Movement For Democratic Change, addresses displaced victims of political violence at the party headquarters in Harare, 27 May 2008
Morgan Tsvangirai addresses displaced victims of political violence at the party headquarters in Harare, 27 May 2008

A month before a runoff vote, MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai said a campaign of violence and intimidation designed to fix President Robert Mugabe's re-election had now killed over 50 of MDC supporters. Tsvangirai, who launched a fund for victims of the violence, said more than 25,000 supporters were also being displaced across the country.

President Robert Mugabe launched his re-election campaign on Sunday accusing Tsvangirai of extensive political violence.

The runoff is taking place against the backdrop of a complete economic meltdown in the country.

Most of the victims of violence say their attackers are members of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

In eastern Zimbabwe, the chairman of the MDC's Manicaland province reports a group of teachers had disappeared 90 kilometers south of the provincial capital Mutare.

He said information so far indicates that the teachers, some of who are suspected of being MDC supporters, are being held at military bases established by what he said was ZANU-PF militia.

He said there were scores of bases in the southern part of the province. This information is confirmed by some commercial farmers in district.

Even in southwestern Zimbabwe, where there have been few attacks, many voters have told church leaders and civil rights activists that they have been threatened not to vote in the upcoming runoff unless they endorse Mr. Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's Election Commission has so far made no comment about the violence.

The Commission has announced that domestic observers and foreign and local journalists can apply for accreditation next week. The independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network says many observers on duty in the last election have been beaten up, or forced to flee their homes.

Applications from most foreign journalists who applied for accreditation for the last elections were turned down.

The accreditation for foreign observers from the Southern African Development Community, SADC, has been granted for the run off. However, SADC has said it wants to increase the number of observers.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in the initial election on March 29 but failed to garner enough to avoid a runoff, according to disputed figures compiled by the official electoral commission.

The original election day also saw Mugabe's ZANU-PF lose control of parliament for the first time since the 84-year-old came to power at independence from Britain in 1980.

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