Mugabe's Rival Exits Race, Calls Runoff a Sham

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Zimbabwe's opposition leader has withdrawn from the country's presidential runoff election. Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change says he is willing to negotiate with the government, but he blames President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party for creating a "violent, illegitimate sham of an election process." He says he is stepping down because the loss of life among his supporters is too high a price to pay.

"[Mugabe] has already declared that he will not accept the opposition victory, he is not going to hand over power, and that he is going to go to war if he lost. So, under those circumstances, Mugabe is determined that he wants to stay in power forever and ever," Tsvangirai tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

He says he'll move formally Wednesday to withdraw his candidacy in Friday's runoff election. Meantime, he reportedly took refuge Monday in the Dutch Embassy in Harare but had not requested asylum.

Tsvangirai's withdrawal moved the head of the Southern African Development Community to challenge Mugabe and the legitimacy of the election. Tsvangirai says he was gratified by the SADC president's expression of disgust at Mugabe's intolerance.

"My assessment is that if there is a collective position by all SADC leaders, that will be sufficient pressure" to ensure that the election is postponed and conducted according to SADC standards, or that Mugabe will be forced to concede, Tsvangirai says.

Tsvangirai is calling for a United Nations resolution to investigate abuses in Zimbabwe, to declare the election void and to reconvene a first round of the election under international supervision. The U.S. and Britain have said they plan to bring Zimbabwe's crisis before the U.N. Security Council.

Zimbabwe's Opposition Leader Pulls Out of Election

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Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, announced Sunday that he is pulling out of next Friday's presidential run-off election.

Tsvangirai said a free and fair election was not possible in Zimbabwe and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high a price to pay. The move follows a wave of political violence that most observers have blamed on supporters of veteran President Robert Mugabe.

From across Zimbabwe's border in South Africa, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells host Liane Hansen that Mugabe has been "more or less" handed a victory by default with Tsvangirai's announcement.

She also says the opposition hopes that by withdrawing from the poll, pressure will be put on the international community to act to end the political violence in Zimbabwe since the first round of voting in March.

"The opposition has very firmly put the onus not only on the international community, but also the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union and diplomacy by saying, 'Look, there is no way that we could take part' in what it has called a sham of an electoral process," she says.

Quist-Arcton also says the people in Zimbabwe are suffering.

"They are being beaten," Quist-Arcton says. "Beaten on the bottom of their feet; being beaten on their buttocks if they support the opposition by pro-Mugabe thugs who are telling them: 'We will show you who to vote for this time because you voted the wrong way last time.' But there is not only a political and electoral crisis in Zimbabwe; we also have an economic crisis with inflation running, officially, at 160,000 percent – and unofficially much higher. This is a crisis."

Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, announced that the opposition was withdrawing from the election to avoid a total humiliation because it knew Tsvangirai was going to lose.

Meanwhile, President Mugabe has already made it clear that he will never voluntarily relinquish power after 28 years, saying only God can remove him from office.

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