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Speculation Continues Over Future of Zimbabwe's ZANU PF - 2003-01-17


Speculation about the future of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF party increased Friday, with publication in a local newspaper of an interview with the head of the security forces, who acknowledged Zimbabwe is in an economic crisis.

General Vitalis Zvinavashe is quoted in a local, usually pro-government, weekly newspaper as saying Zimbabwe's crisis needs urgent attention. He says a task force needs to be established directly under the president's control, as a first step toward bringing some resolution to the deepening crisis. He says the task force should be free of any interference from members of the cabinet.

Political analysts say the general, head of Zimbabwe's armed forces, is a key member of the political elite and has influence with President Robert Mugabe.

His statement comes during a wave of leaks from ruling party sources indicating there is of a growing feeling that the country will sink even further, unless Mr. Mugabe makes way, either for a successor, or for a transitional authority leading to new presidential elections.

Reports early this week of a plan by senior ruling party members to remove Mr. Mugabe have been denied. But the reports have unleashed a wave of comments from ruling party officials indicating that they might actually be interested in such a plan.

Meanwhile, repression of the government's opponents is alleged to be continuing.

Opposition Member of Parliament Job Sikhala wept in court Thursday when he told how he had been tortured while in police custody earlier in the week. Mr. Sikhala said he was subjected to electric shock torture, with wires attached to his feet and genitalia. He said guards also clubbed his feet, urinated on him and forced him to sign a false confession. He was accused of involvement in torching a new public bus last week. The police declined to comment on his allegations of mistreatment.

Another member of parliament and several opposition activists were also arrested during the past week.

In addition, about a dozen top tobacco farmers received eviction notices this week. The government's land reform program has already evicted most white commercial farmers from their land, destroying, at least for this year, Zimbabwe's once flourishing commercial agriculture industry. Commercially grown tobacco was Zimbawe's top foreign currency earner. This year's crop has not yet been processed.

The land reform has reduced overall crop size by two-thirds, and now experts say all of that is not likely to be harvested.

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