Opposition: Mugabe Has "Unleashed A War"

(CBS/AP) Zimbabwe's main opposition party says President Robert Mugabe has "unleashed a war" in his bid to stay in power after party offices were raided and foreign journalists detained five days after presidential elections.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had not released official election results by Thursday, despite increasing international pressure. Mugabe was said to be pondering conflicting advice from his advisers on whether to quietly cede power or face a run-off, both humiliating prospects for the 84-year-old president.

Diplomats said Thursday's events indicated he might be considering a third option: declaring a state of emergency and suppressing the opposition.

A spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party told Britain's Sky News on Friday, "I think what you are seeing is the start of military rule" in Zimbabwe.

The MDC says its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the presidency outright, but that it is prepared to compete in a run-off.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti said hotel rooms used as offices by the opposition at a Harare hotel were ransacked Thursday by intruders he believed were either police or agents of the feared Central Intelligence Organization.

"Mugabe has started a crackdown," Biti told The Associated Press. "It is quite clear he has unleashed a war."

Biti said the raid at the Meikles Hotel targeted "certain people... including myself," but that Tsvangirai was "safe."

Also Thursday, heavily armed riot police surrounded and entered a Harare hotel housing foreign correspondents and took five away, lawyers said.

Sky News reported Friday that two of the reporters had been charged with practicing journalism without licenses. The other three were released.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Barry Bearak was among the reporters initially detained, but it was unclear whether he was one of the two reporters charged Friday.

Speaking to Sky News, Mugabe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Friday, "these journalists need to prove that they have been accepted (into the country)" and he accused Western reporters of trying to "inflame a situation that doesn't need fire".

"We are very keen on foreign journalists operating in Zimbabwe," Matonga said, "but you wanted to barge in, you wanted to push yourselves in... So we had to take a stand".

Sky's Emma Hurd, one of the Western journalists who was still broadcasting from inside Zimbabwe on Friday without a permit to be there, said her organization had applied for years to work inside the country but was consistently denied entry.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm and called for the detained reporters' immediate release.

The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said Thursday that one of its staff members was detained by Zimbabwean authorities at Harare's airport as he tried to leave the country. Dileepan Sivapathasundaram, a U.S. citizen, had been working with local groups who were monitoring election monitors, the group said.

The nonprofit organization said it had been denied access to and information about Sivapathasundaram and called for his release.

Mugabe was reportedly meeting Friday with his most trusted group of advisors, the politburo, to discuss what next step his Zanu-PF party should take.

U.S. Ambassador to Britain Robert Tuttle told Sky on Friday that Washington was, "without question," pressuring Mugabe to adhere to the official election results when they are made public.

"If there is another election, we want it to be a free and fair election, and that's where we'll be putting the pressure. That's what's important," Tuttle said, referring to the possibility of a runoff vote.

Diplomats in Harare and at the United Nations said Mugabe was planning to declare a 90-day delay to a presidential runoff to give security forces time to clamp down. The law requires a run-off be held within 21 days of an election, but Mugabe could change that with a presidential decree, a Western diplomat in Harare said.

On Thursday, Tsvangirai tried to reassure security chiefs who vowed a week ago not to serve anyone but Mugabe, according to a person close to the opposition leader. But a meeting with seven generals was canceled when the officers said that they had been ordered not to attend, the person said.

The man, who requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, gave The Associated Press a copy of a letter signed by Tsvangirai that promises generous retirement packages for those unwilling to serve in an MDC government. It also promises not to take back farms given to officers under Mugabe's land reform program, except in cases in which an officer got several farms or if land was being neglected.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since his guerrilla army helped force an end to white minority rule and bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980, but his popularity has been battered by an economic freefall that followed the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms in 2000.

Seemingly laying the groundwork for a Mugabe run-off campaign, the state-run Herald newspaper said the ruling ZANU-PF party was running neck and neck with the opposition in the vote count, and it highlighted divisions among Mugabe's foes.

© MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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