Intimidation on Rise as Election Nears in Zimbabwe A presidential runoff election will be held later this month in Zimbabwe. In some places in the country, the opposition has been prevented from holding rallies. Journalist Jeff Barbee talks about the election violence in Zimbabwe.
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Intimidation on Rise as Election Nears in Zimbabwe

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Intimidation on Rise as Election Nears in Zimbabwe

Intimidation on Rise as Election Nears in Zimbabwe

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Zimbabwe is in the middle of a presidential run-off election, and the opposition says the government of President Robert Mugabe continues to harass and detain members of the party, including its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Independent human rights groups say opposition supporters have been beaten by police. Many have died. Tsvangirai himself has twice been detained by authorities.

We've reached journalist Jeff Barbee in Johannesburg for an update on the situation in Zimbabwe. Good morning.

Mr. JEFF BARBEE (Journalist, Johannesburg, South Africa): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now it's pretty obvious that Robert Mugabe is determined to do whatever it takes to remain in power. What were the sorts of things you were seeing when you were there?

Mr. BARBEE: You know, on the very first morning I arrived, I went to an independent group there that does counseling with some of the people who've been victims of the political violence in the rural countryside. And there was just rooms full of people that have mostly what are called defensive injuries, where they've held up their arm to deflect a blow from a large pole or an axe or a machete. And there were people lined up outside these rooms, you know, and when we're talking people, I'd say probably 200 people, and this was just one center in one small part of Harare. Doctors now, the specialist doctors of Zimbabwe Group say 3,000 people have ended up in Harare in the last two months.

MONTAGNE: You know, in addition to that, hundreds of Zimbabweans have just recently returned home from South Africa because of anti-immigrant violence there in South Africa. Is that likely to have any impact on the situation?

Mr. BARBEE: That's a very important question because we don't know how many people have returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa. It could be hundreds. It could be thousands. I've been working on that particular issue in the last few days myself. And Mugabe has a very orchestrated campaign in Zimbabwe, and one thing he did not count on was to have a lot of essentially economically active, educated and angry people returning to Zimbabwe this close to the election.

So as far as I can see, this was not something in Mugabe's plan, and that's a good thing. If there's any bright spark in the terrible violence that happened here in South Africa against the foreigners, it's that some of these people are returning to Zimbabwe. They are angry, and they hopefully will be part of a change that might happen at the end of this month during the voting.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, the voting is just three weeks off. Taken together, how do you see this playing out?

Mr. BARBEE: Well, Renee, I think that there's really only two options, that Robert Mugabe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, will steal the election either by hook or by crook, and that's probably the most likely one. It's what we're seeing a lot of right now, and unfortunately for the people of Zimbabwe, that does seem like it will happen.

The other option is that Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition party, the MDC, will win the election, but that won't guarantee that he will become the president. There would have to be a lot of back-room dealings and sort of safe exits for these people who have helped Mugabe over the years, some people who are guilty of some pretty heinous crimes.

MONTAGNE: Jeff Barbee is a journalist, and he's recently returned to Johannesburg from his latest visit to Zimbabwe. Thanks very much.

Mr. BARBEE: Thank you very much, Renee.

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