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Zimbabwe: Main Opposition Party's Offices Bombed - 2001-11-16

In Zimbabwe, supporters of President Robert Mugabe were accused of Friday's firebombing of the offices of the country's main opposition party in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. Pro-government militants were also accused of attacking people in Bulawayo's business and commercial center.

The president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, called a news conference early Friday, immediately after the firebombing became known. Speaking to reporters in Harare, he said the attackers were escorted by police and that a mob prevented the fire service from putting out the blaze.

Residents of Bulawayo said that, in addition to the firebombing, mobs of militants rampaged through the city center, clubbing passersby, most of them whites. MDC officials said that at least a dozen people were badly beaten, with several needing treatment in hospital.

Friday's violence followed the kidnapping and death of Cain Nkala, a leader of the pro-government militants in Bulawayo. President Mugabe has blamed the opposition party for Mr. Nkala's death. At least 15 senior MDC officials, including a member of parliament, have been arrested in connection with the alleged murder.

State radio accused the MDC of deliberately burning down its own offices to destroy evidence relating to the death of Cain Nkala.

The MDC leadership has denied the charges and accused the government of using the death as an excuse to crack down on the opposition.

At the news conference, Mr. Tsvangirai said the Mugabe government is using Mr. Nkala's death as an excuse to terrorize and intimidate the opposition ahead of presidential elections next year.

The MDC leader said there is no possibility that the election, in which he is challenging Mr. Mugabe, will be free and fair.

Mr. Tsvangirai added that although his own life is in danger, he has survived three assassination attempts, he will not flee Zimbabwe. He said, "The whole MDC leadership is prepared to die for what they believe in."

Meanwhile, a court in Harare has freed two journalists who were accused of operating a newspaper illegally. The court said that Geoff Nyarota, editor of the privately-owned Daily News, and Wilf Mbanga, a former executive on the paper, had not committed any offence.

The two were arrested last week and held overnight after the government claimed that the parent company of the newspaper did not exist.