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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 18:05 GMT
Army deals blow to Mugabe rival
Police officer behind President Robert Mugabe
The security forces are backing Mugabe
Zimbabwe's military chiefs have declared they will only back leaders who fought in the country's wars of liberation, dealing a fresh blow to the opposition presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.


We would not accept, let alone support or salute anyone with a different agenda

General Vitalis Zvinavashe
Defence Forces commander
President Robert Mugabe, whose two-decade rule faces a strong challenge from Mr Tsvangirai in the forthcoming presidential election, has already told the nation that his opponent did not fight in the wars against white rule and is therefore a traitor.

At the same time, Mr Mugabe's office announced that the election will be held on 9 and 10 March.

Defence forces commander General Vitalis Zvinavashe said in his statement: "Any change designed to reverse the gains of this revolution will not be supported."

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai says he could win a free and fair poll
The thinly-veiled warning to the opposition came as parliament assembled to push through a controversial package of legislation, which the opposition says is designed to stifle dissent ahead of the election.

Correspondents say this is the most open threat to date that voting for Mr Tsvangirai would mean voting for civil war - a message that officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party have long been spreading.

Tortured

Mr Zvinavashe, flanked by commanders of the police, the air force and other security organisations, also warned journalists not to cause "instability".

Two journalists were tortured in military barracks in 1999 after writing a story about an alleged coup plot.

The three bills are designed to:
Outlaw election monitors
Give the police new powers
Control the media
Change is the slogan of Mr Tsvangirai's party - the Movement for Democratic Change.

Those responsible have never been arrested.

State media was used to summon all 83 Zanu-PF members to the 150-seat house after its MPs failed to show up in sufficient numbers on Tuesday.

The low turn-out allowed the opposition to defeat a bill outlawing independent monitors from the forthcoming elections.

Leaflets

The ruling party is determined that the defeated bill and a further two bills - designed to clamp down on the media and endow the police with new powers - will become law.

The MDC says the first bill - which was defeated by 36 votes to 22 - cannot legally be resubmitted in this session of parliament.

But Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said he will find a way to force it through into law.

If it does go through, says the BBC's Alistair Leithead, it will severely hamper the opposition's electoral campaign, as it not only bars monitors, but also restricts the distribution of election posters and leaflets.

The other two bills being debated on Wednesday could also have far-reaching implications for the opposition if passed.

Lies

The Public Order and Security Bill would make it an offence to criticise the president, which observers say would make life intolerable for the opposition during an election campaign.

Zimbabwe parliament
Zanu-PF will ensure all its MPs vote on the controversial bills
An equally uncompromising bill would bar foreign journalists from Zimbabwe and would require local journalists to obtain government accreditation, which would have to be renewed every 12 months.

Tough jail terms and hefty fines are threatened for any journalists publishing news "likely to cause alarm and despondency".

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said it would stop "lies" being told by foreign correspondents about the situation in Zimbabwe.

The BBC has been banned from Zimbabwe and few foreign correspondents are being given work permits.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
Moyo will decide who can work as a journalist
Zimbabwe's journalists say the media bill is draconian and have said they will ignore it.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called some of the new measures "preposterous".

"If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in March," he said on Tuesday.

But Mr Moyo said Britain did not have support to push his country out of the Commonwealth.

London had "miserably failed" to persuade international opinion against Zimbabwe, he said, but was still trying to bring about a victory for the MDC in the March poll.

The European Union has threatened to impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders unless it is allowed to monitor the elections.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"It was a marathon parliamentary session"
Canadian Foreign Minister David Kilgour
"Things have got significantly worse"
Zimbabwean journalist Clayton Peel
"Any editor knows the consequences"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's controversial bills
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Double setback for Mugabe
14 Dec 01 | Africa
Police free Mugabe opponent
05 Dec 01 | Africa
Sanctions loom for Mugabe
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