The main opposition party in Zimbabwe says it may have to cancel its political rallies because supporters are being injured and killed in attacks by ruling party militants. In recent days two rallies in Harare held by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were called off after dozens of people were beaten up by militants.
The disruption of the Harare events in support of the presidential bid of Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, comes a week after a rally in the southwestern city of Bulawayo had to be abandoned when police beat and fired tear gas at MDC supporters. Eighteen people were seriously injured and one of them has since died.
The chief spokesman for the MDC, Learnmore Jongwe, accuses the police of collaborating with the ruling party militants. Mr. Jongwe says armed police were at the two Harare meetings but did nothing to stop rampaging militants. Eyewitnesses said police joined in the assaults on MDC members.
There has been no official government comment on the opposition charges, but police deny the allegations and say they were trying to stop fighting between groups of rival supporters.
The party says it might be forced to suspend public meetings until international observers arrive in Zimbabwe ahead of the elections, scheduled for March 9-10.
The MDC says that many of those responsible for the violence are recently trained volunteers from the youth militia who have undergone national service. The government says service in the militia is now to be compulsory and says the youths will be taught the value of patriotism and Zimbabwe's history.
A senior MDC official describes the training scheme as "indoctrination and preparation for terrorism."