Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says his main aim will be to return the country to the rule of law if he wins the upcoming presidential election. In the eastern border city of Mutare, Mr. Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, has officially launched his campaign for the March 9-10 election.

Mr. Tsvangirai addressed a cheering crowd of 12,000 in Mutare, 260 kilometers from the capital, Harare. He said the government has committed serious human-rights abuses and has ruined the lives of millions of ordinary people, but the Movement for Democratic Change leader is committed to rebuilding and reconstruction.

He said he would not pursue a policy of vengeance against President Robert Mugabe or his government. "Mugabe wants to turn us all into peasants," he said, "but the MDC will form a government of national unity to rebuild the country."

To frequent yells of the party slogan of Chinja, Maitiro - the local Shona terms for "Change your Ways" - Morgan Tsvangirai said President Mugabe should have retired in 1995, and would have been regarded as the founder of the Zimbabwe nation.

Mr. Mugabe, who is 78 this month, has ruled the country since independence from Britain 22 years ago.

Mr. Tsvangirai accused the police of being responsible for much of the political violence that has claimed more than 60 lives in the past year and led to more than 5,000 people being beaten up or tortured.

Human rights agencies say almost all of the victims have been opposition party supporters and activists.

Mr. Tsvangirai said that much of Zimbabwe's economic crisis, which has led to inflation of more than 100 percent a year and 70 percent unemployment, is due to Mr. Mugabe's decision to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo in August 1998. More than 12,000 Zimbabwe soldiers are helping the government of Joseph Kabila against rebels from Rwanda.

"We will withdraw from the Congo if I am elected," said Mr. Tsvangirai.

The Mutare rally was peaceful, but MDC national President Isaac Matongo said there had been widespread intimidation by militants of the ruling ZANU-PF party in the two days before the rally. Mr. Matongo said the militants had threatened people with death if they went to the gathering.

Two weeks ago, an MDC rally in Bulawayo, in the southwest of the country, was broken up by police who fired teargas after attacks on MDC supporters by ruling-party militants. Eighteen people were seriously injured and one person died later.