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Crackdown on Zimbabwe Opposition Intensifies - 2003-02-09

As Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis deepens, visiting Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met with President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The Nigerian leader was told that shortly before he arrived, two opposition members of the Zimbabwe parliament and 13 supporters had been arrested.

During his five-hour visit to Zimbabwe Saturday, Mr. Obasanjo was told that the crackdown against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was intensifying.

African diplomats say they had hoped to be able to tell him there was progress in normalizing Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

Mr. Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki have reportedly been putting pressure on the Zimbabwe government to reform before a crucial Commonwealth meeting next month.

Mr. Obasanjo was told that the numbers of those on the point of starvation increased daily and that much of Zimbabwe's urban population is suffering a food shortage.

The Nigerian leader also was briefed by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but details of their discussions were not disclosed immediately.

A senior African diplomat says the Nigerians are concerned that the Zimbabwe government had failed to address the dramatic drop in agricultural production after chasing 90 percent of white farmers off their land in the past three years.

Well-placed diplomatic sources say Mr. Obasanjo emerged from his meeting with Mr. Mugabe with little hope of a short-term solution to the crisis.

Political observers say Nigeria and South Africa will find it difficult to persuade the Commonwealth that progress has been made in Zimbabwe since its membership was suspended for a year last March.

Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Obasanjo say they want Zimbabwe's suspension lifted at the upcoming Commonwealth meeting.

The opposition said Sunday that members of parliament Tendai Biti and Paul Madzore had been located at Harare's central police station. They are in a cell with 15 supporters and are expected to be charged Monday with holding an illegal gathering.