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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 06:09 GMT
Opposition MP shot in Zimbabwe
Murdered opposition supporter is buried
Violence is increasing as the election approaches
An opposition member of parliament is reported to have been shot and wounded in Zimbabwe while campaigning for next month's presidential elections.

Carefully orchestrated violence is still prevalent

Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the MP, Abednego Bhebhe, was in a critical condition after being shot on Wednesday by unidentified attackers during a stop at a petrol station.

The party said he was held overnight by police after the incident, along with two fellow opposition members of parliament and several other people.

The news follows a warning by human rights groups of an alarming increase in politically-motivated violence in the run-up to voting.

Political violence

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum said 16 political deaths were recorded in January 2002 - the highest monthly total since the political violence began two years ago.

Opposition activists have been attacked by Mugabe's supporters
Opposition supporter displays scars on his back

The group blames supporters of President Robert Mugabe for most of the violence but says three activists from his Zanu-PF party were among the dead.

In one province alone, 35 schools have had to close because of the political violence, according to the forum's latest report.

The MDC says that more than 100 of its supporters have been killed in the past two years.

The report contradicts the government's claims that political violence is lessening ahead of next month's presidential elections.

Teachers targeted

International groups such as the European Union and the Commonwealth have threatened to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders unless the elections are free and fair.

"Although spontaneous incidents of political violence do occur between groups of party supporters, it is of great concern that carefully orchestrated violence is still prevalent as part of a modus operandi to crush opposition party support," says the report.

It also accuses the police of being partisan and only arresting opposition supporters during political clashes.

In rural areas where support for Mr Mugabe remains strong, teachers are often seen as being opposition activists.

"The attack on school teachers continued unabated. At times government ministers and officials have been at the forefront of the onslaught which has not only disrupted schooling but has also displaced numerous teachers," says the human rights groups.

Of the 16 deaths, 10 were opposition supporters, three backed Mr Mugabe and the political affiliations of three more - including two farm guards - were not clear.


Zanu-PF says that six of its supporters have been killed in the past two months and accuses the MDC of starting the violence.

The European Union has pulled back from its threat of imposing targeted sanctions against Mr Mugabe and his associates after he promised to invite EU election observers.

Likewise, the Commonwealth rejected British calls to suspend Zimbabwe and already has some observers in place.

With Zimbabwe's economy in meltdown, Mr Mugabe is facing his strongest political challenge in 22 years in the shape of the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's climate of fear
03 Feb 02 | Africa
Mugabe opponent enters fray
01 Feb 02 | Africa
Mugabe launches defiant campaign
30 Jan 02 | Africa
Suspension 'not the answer'
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