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Zimbabwe Nearly Doubling Size of Police Force Ahead of Elections

  • Peta Thornycroft

Zimbabwe police have started to recruit new policemen, nearly doubling the size of the force ahead of general and parliamentary elections early next year. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party are continuing the heaviest ever crackdown on the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Senior assistant commissioner Faustino Mazango is quoted in the state controlled Herald newspaper Monday saying that the Zimbabwe Republic Police has begun a recruitment drive to increase the size of the force to at least 50,000 officers.

Mazango said the recruitment was necessary as Zimbabwe would be holding simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections next March.

On Saturday, police raided the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change in central Harare and arrested about 200 party youth and provincial leaders. Since then all but about 40 have been released. This was the second raid on the party's offices in a month.

Police say the arrests are in connection with 12 small petrol bomb attacks mostly around Harare in March, which Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the MDC, said were the work of state security agents.

The MDC has regularly seen its legislators and party leaders arrested and assaulted while in detention since it was formed in late 1999, particularly around elections.

The latest attacks which began in March, are the toughest ever, Chamisa said. Many party officials are in constant hiding while some have fled to South Africa.

Veteran political commentator Brian Raftopoulos says violence has long been used by Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party. He said Mugabe wanted to destroy the opposition MDC party.

He said the ongoing violence against the MDC was what he described as a "slap in the face," for South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki has been asked by regional leaders in the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, to mediate dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC.

Mr. Mbeki's officials have already held preliminary talks with Mr. Mugabe and the MDC.

Senior ZANU-PF official Didymus Mutasa, who is also security minister, said ZANU-PF was not particularly interested in the mediation initiative.

He was quoted in a South African-based Internet publication, Zimbabwe Online, saying ZANU-PF was not "desperate to talk" to the MDC. He said ZANU-PF was only "accommodating" the initiative because the party was being "courteous" to SADC, which he said had shown strong support for ZANU-PF.

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