Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has returned home from South Africa, vowing that he will defeat President Robert Mugabe in second round elections next month. Peta Thornycroft reports, Mr. Tsvangirai went straight from the airport to a hospital to visit with victims of political violence.
Morgan Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare that he was confident of victory in the June 27 runoff against President Mugabe.
"Let's have a free and fair election," he said. "I can tell you that, as the sun rises from the east and sets out in the west, Mugabe will not get the support in the second round."
Mr. Tsvangirai deplored political violence that his party says has claimed the lives of more than 40 opposition supporters. His Movement for Democratic Change accuses Mugabe loyalists of a campaign to intimidate opposition supporters, but President Mugabe blames the MDC for the violence that has swept the country since the March 29 elections.
In that vote, the MDC stripped Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of the parliamentary majority it held since independence from Britain in 1980. Official results from the first round of voting in the presidential contest showed MDC leader Tsvangirai beating President Mugabe, but failing to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Mr. Tsvangirai said he was shocked at the recent deaths of opposition activists, including leading civil rights campaigner Tonderai Ndira, whose body was found on a farm earlier in the week.
Thousands of MDC activists and party supporters have been injured in post-election violence. Upon arriving in Harare, Mr. Tsvangirai visited some of the victims in the hospital.
"I return home with a very sad heart," said the opposition leader. "I have met and listened to stories from innocent people targeted by the regime, seemingly desperate to hang on to power. Democrats have been targeted by the dictator, who has lost the support of the people. Ever since the majority of Zimbabweans voted for change on 29 March, the regime has been on a rampage."
Over the past week, authorities arrested 12 opposition activists and two legislators accused of 'inciting violence.' Mr. Tsvangirai accused the government of harassment.
"The regime is harassing and imprisoning members of parliament, party administrators, and many of those not yet detained by the police are in hiding," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai also appealed for Zimbabweans who have fled abroad to return home. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country in the wake of economic collapse. Most of them are in South Africa, which has seen a wave of anti-immigrant violence. Mr. Tsvangirai said Mr. Mugabe was partly responsible for those attacks.
"The xenophobic attacks in South Africa can be directly attributed to Mugabe's failed policies of intolerance and repression, the failed policies which forced thousands and thousands to flee their ancestral homes, and now, instead of a safe haven, people in the diaspora face even more death and destruction, all because of a failed liberation hero, Mugabe who once led our people to freedom. He can, even now, set his people free again. By acknowledging their desire for change, even now, he can open the door to a new Zimbabwe," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai said he hoped the regional organization, the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, would send observers and peacekeepers to monitor the June 27 election.
The opposition leader returned home a week later than originally planned, because his party said it had uncovered a plot to assassinate him. Mr. Tsvangirai said he had been given assurances that he was no longer at risk. The ZANU-PF has denied involvement in such a plot.