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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai Claims Ruling Party Status

The leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, delivered what he called a 'state of the nation' address to elected lawmakers from his party, and promised a 'new era of opportunity' for Zimbabwe, which he said was in a state of despair. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA.

Mr. Tsvangirai, whose party won 110 seats in the 210-seat parliament in March, made it clear that the Movement for Democratic Change was now in charge.

"This is a historic day. Today I stand before you with a state of the nation address," he said. "The MDC is the majority in parliament for the first time since our liberation in 1980. Zimbabwe will witness a new and different era of governance, an era of democratic governance by the people, for the people, an era of governance that shall transform our nation from the past and present disaster to an era of new opportunity. Each of you played a part in transforming the opposition MDC to the ruling party MDC... this is a huge responsibility for each of us. We cannot point fingers at anyone. Our victory must herald a new and better future for our children."

In the presidential vote in March, Tsvangirai won more votes than President Robert Mugabe, but failed to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff, which is scheduled for June 27. The period since those elections has been marked by violence, which each side accuses the other of perpetrating. The Movement for Democratic Change says 50 of its supporters have been killed. Human rights groups blame the government for the violence.

Mr. Tsvangirai began his address with a moment of silence for those who have died in what he said was the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Tsvangirai's gathering at the International Conference Center in Harare on Friday was expected to anger Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. Throughout his speech, Mr. Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe was a place of despair and a an embarrassment to Africa.

He said there was no time yet for celebration, as Zimbabwe faces the presidential run off in June.

"Now, as we prepare for the next election, our people stand on the precipice of fear and expectation," he said. "They voted for change, and now they face many risks. Indeed, we all stand on the bridge between yesterday's betrayal and tomorrow's promise. We have a responsibility to reverse the tide of intolerance, violence, corruption, hatred and patronage."

President Mugabe and his wife Grace addressed a rally of his party supporters on Thursday in the Shamva district, 80 kilometers northeast of Harare. This is the area where supporters of Mr. Tsvangirai were alleged to have torched several huts and assaulted Mugabe followers in recent days, the official media reported Friday.

Mrs. Mugabe told supporters the president would not be removed from office by anyone outside the ZANU-PF party.

Mr. Mugabe has also repeatedly said that Morgan Tsvangirai will never rule Zimbabwe.

"This barbaric campaigning of theirs, of causing arson, burning people's homes, destroying people's homes and harming people and destroying their lives," he said.

But, MDC legislators claim it is President Mugabe and his party who are using violence against the MDC and its supporters. The MDC says more than 500 MDC supporters or people suspected of voting for the MDC, or its legislators and councilors have been arrested since the election.