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Political Tensions Rise in Zimbabwe as Election Campaign Begins - 2004-07-14


Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are busy selecting candidates to compete in general elections next March. Opposition legislator Roy Bennett, who was recently involved in a scuffle with a cabinet minister, has just been chosen by his party to run again.

The political temperature is rising in Zimbabwe as the two main political parties hit the campaign trail for primary elections to choose candidates who will run for parliament in seven months.

President Robert Mugabe told Zanu-PF youth members last weekend he will hold them responsible if the party does not win. He called the opposition a puppet of the British government.

Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has confirmed that Roy Bennett will run again in his home constituency, Chimanimani, a poor and remote rural area in eastern Zimbabwe.

Mr. Bennett is widely acknowledged by human rights monitors as one of the most persecuted legislators in Zimbabwe's parliamentary history.

He is also a white man, and a commercial farmer by trade, although all his property has been seized by the government as part of its land reform program.

Zanu-PF is also angry because he holds the parliament seat from an area that has strong historical links with the ruling party dating from the beginning of its war to end white colonial rule nearly 40 years ago.

Independent observers who went to Mr. Bennet's district last weekend say record numbers of people came out to hear him speak at a rally.

This was the first time he has been home since national and provincial leaders from Zanu-PF declared he was banned from the area. The statements were made after he pushed Justice Minster Patrick Chinamasa to the ground during an argument in parliament two months ago.

Mr. Bennett is in the middle of a disciplinary hearing for his behavior, and if found guilty, he could be banned from parliament.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai traveled with Mr. Bennett to Chimanimani last weekend as part of the party's campaign to select its candidates. He said there is no doubt that the people want Mr. Bennett to continue to represent them.

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