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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 13:14 GMT
Zimbabwe's anthrax 'gimmick'
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
The envelope was sent to the information minister
An anthrax scare in Zimbabwe has proved a false alarm amid allegations the incident was a "cheap" attempt by the government to discredit the opposition.

The anthrax gimmick is the latest strategy that has been authored by the now panic-stricken Zanu-PF election strategists

MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe

The state-owned Herald newspaper reported on Thursday that white powder found in an envelope addressed to Information Minister Jonathan Moyo had tested negative for anthrax.

Two envelopes of white powder were reportedly intercepted earlier in the week at a Harare post office after two postal workers fell ill.

Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo accused white people and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of masterminding the alleged attack.

But MDC officials described the government's claim as a "cheap gimmick" aimed at discrediting the opposition ahead of presidential elections in March.

Opposition accused

Despite the negative test on the powder, police said the fact that one of the envelopes was addressed to the information minister was cause for grave concern.

Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo
Home Affairs Minister Nkomo blamed whites and the MDC

"We are therefore viewing this as terrorism designed to cause fear in the population as well as create insecurity," police spokesman Wayne Bvudijena told the Herald.

A health official told the paper that the powder was a type of bacteria, and efforts to identify it were under way.

As to the identity of the perpetrators, Mr Nkomo had few doubts.

"Those responsible for these terrorist attacks are people who formed the MDC and supported it," he was quoted as saying.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who enjoys huge support among urban blacks, is set to present the strongest challenge yet to President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF in the forthcoming presidential election.

MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe said the anthrax allegations were entirely baseless.

"The anthrax gimmick is the latest strategy that has been authored by the now panic-stricken Zanu-PF election strategists," he said in a statement.

Government crackdown

The ruling party is currently trying to push three bills through parliament that would introduce draconian new measures on the press, public security, and electoral laws.

In the latest development, Zimbabwe's military chiefs declared they would only back leaders who fought in the country's wars of liberation, dealing a fresh blow to Mr Tsvangirai.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai says he could win a free and fair poll

Rights groups, journalists and MDC politicians say Mr Mugabe is trying everything in his power to stifle dissent ahead of the elections.

He has seen his popularity slide amid a collapsing economy, growing international criticism of his human rights record and the violent seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

Britain has said it will press for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth if it did not tackle political violence and human rights violations.

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

Last year, the United States House of Representatives also passed legislation urging President George W Bush to impose sanctions.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Africa
Army deals blow to Mugabe rival
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