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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 11:52 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Manicaland
Hardline ruling Zanu-PF party youths on Wednesday barred journalists from Zimbabwe's only independent daily from covering a rally held by President Robert Mugabe in Mutare, because of what one of the youths termed the paper's overtly anti-government stance.
Two reporters and a photographer from the mass-circulation Daily News were ejected from the city's Sakubva Stadium in front of police.
"I was immediately ordered out by a Zanu-PF official who recognised me as I walked into the stadium," Brian Mangwende, the newspaper's Mutare bureau chief said.
Scenic Mutare, some 266 kilometres east of the capital Harare, is an opposition bastion.
But more than 20,000 Zanu-PF loyalists packed Sakubva Stadium on Wednesday to pledge allegiance to the former guerrilla leader.
He reportedly told the crowd - some of whom believed to have been bussed in from Harare - that the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, planned to topple all governments in southern Africa led by liberation movements.
These included the African National Congress (ANC) government of South Africa, he said.
Western journalists and those from the government-owned media were allowed to cover the rally, one of President Mugabe's last before the election.
Uniformed police stood by as party youths frisked everyone entering the stadium. Personal cameras were not permitted inside.
But party spokesman Charles Pemhenayi denied orders had been given to bar the Daily News from covering the event.
"We allow all journalists to cover our rallies, whether they write trash or not," he said. "The youths and officials concerned acted on their own."
Some of the youths maintained, however, that they had been given specific instructions not to let in journalists from "unfriendly" media.
Reporters from the state-run media, for their part, have reportedly been barred from covering some opposition rallies, as the political tension mounts ahead of the weekend vote.
Opposition activists say state reporters merely reflect government views.
Government supporters, on the other hand, accuse the Daily News of pro-opposition bias and wildly exaggerating the degree of the country's political and economic crisis.
Authorities have enacted legislation designed to tame what it called a wild independent media.
Zimbabwe's independence war veterans fear life under an MDC government will be unbearable, and have vowed an all-out offensive against the opposition to ensure their current status in society is not severely compromised.
Patrick Nyaruwata, acting leader of the former freedom fighters, has reportedly warned fellow ex-combatants in Mutare that life in Zimbabwe would be difficult for them if Zanu-PF is loses in this weekend's presidential poll.
"There will be no life for war veterans in Zimbabwe if Zanu-PF is removed from power," Mr Nyaruwata was quoted as saying amid applause.
The MDC has said it will seek to bring to book, if voted into power, anyone implicated in the current wave of political violence, including ex-combatants, who have become an integral part of President Mugabe's re-election bid.
Mr Nyaruwata described as ineffective the Zanu-PF campaign in Manicaland province, especially in Mutare, saying the party needed to re-double its efforts to prop up President Mugabe's 22-year rule.
In a thinly-veiled reference to Mr Tsvangirai's candidature, the war veterans' leader declared there would be no problem if someone with a traceable liberation war record won the watershed ballot.
Zimbabwe's top security chiefs have threatened not to recognise Mr Tsvangirai if he wins the election.
Heavily-armed government agents this week swooped on the home of an opposition lawmaker in Nyanga, allegedly looking for "hidden arms".
Leonard Chirowamhangu, the Member of Parliament for Nyanga, in north-eastern Zimbabwe, told reporters his house was raided by police, soldiers and agents of the spy agency Central Intelligence Organisation(CIO).
"They did not have a search warrant but they went on to rummage through my property," he said.
He said the search party had been told his house was being used as a safe haven for criminals.
The officers took away his traditional weapons.
"They took away my bows and arrows which I inherited from my grandfather."
Inspector Francis Mubvuta, spokesman for the police in Mutare, said the police would return the seized bow and arrows after the presidential election.
"The house was searched after we received information that the MP was in possession of weapons, some of which were confiscated," said the officer.
Ten families in Makoni North have been rendered homeless after a group of suspected Zanu-PF youths went on the rampage in the constituency, setting their huts ablaze.
Property worth thousands of Zimbabwe dollars was destroyed.
Police in Mutare confirmed the incident, which occurred on Friday.
The youths accused the owners of backing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group set alight several huts in the constituency as the terror campaign intensifies ahead of next weekend's presidential election.
"They set alight three using petrol bombs and left behind a white MDC T-shirt at the scene," said the officer.
Police in the region have conceded they were failing to curb politically-motivated violence in Rusape, which has rocked the town since last December.
Mainly ruling party youths from the Border Gezi Training Centre in Mount Darwin, Mashonaland Central province, have been accused of being at the centre of the terror which has seen thousands of residents flee the constituency.
The MDC has also accused local MP Didymus Mutasa of spearheading the terror campaign.
But, Mr Mutasa, a member of the ruling party's powerful politburo and the national secretary for external affairs, told reporters: "You are always accusing me of misdeeds."
He added: "It's only (reporters) from the independent media who think I am a warlord in Manicaland."
The Zanu-PF youths have imposed an illegal curfew in Rusape.
28 February, Mutare
Governor Oppah Muchinguri has been accused of trying to "force Zanu-PF doctrine down the throats of student teachers" ahead of the presidential election.
Lecturers and students from teacher training institutions in Mutare accused Ms Muchinguri of disrupting lessons last week after the ruling party held political meetings at the colleges without consulting them.
Some lecturers and students at the state run Mutare and Marymount colleges complained bitterly that the officials violated standing rules which bar politicians from addressing them on campus.
"Zanu-PF is desperately trying to force its doctrine down our throats by holding its campaign meetings on college premises," said a lecturer who declined to be named.
The party's strategy was designed to drum up support for President Mugabe, who faces the sternest test of his popularity in the March poll, the lecturer said.
The governor has dismissed suggestions that she had imposed herself on the students.
"I was invited by the students," she said. "They gave me the platform and a lot of students attended my meetings because they want me to address their grievances."
Students nationwide have in the past clashed with the government over high tuition fees, costly food and what they said were paltry state grants.
27 February, Mutare
The opposition has accused the Zanu-PF government of registering new voters - two months after the deadline.
Official registration, ended just before Christmas.
"That's another way of rigging the election," Innocent Gonese, the opposition MP for Mutare Central, said on Tuesday.
"If there is any registration going on now for the presidential poll it is nothing but a fraud."
At least 1,000 people are said to have been registered in Mutare in the past two weeks in what the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has described as a fraudulent exercise.
But Charles Mhende, the provincial registrar, told the Eastern Star newspaper that the registration of new voters was an "ongoing exercise" that had nothing to do with the presidential ballot.
"Anyone who wants to be registered as a voter can do so at any given time," he said.
The total number of voters registered in the province was not readily available, but the government has announced that it expected up to 5.4 million Zimbabweans on the national voters' roll.
Often portrayed as a region of awesome beauty and crisp mountain air, Manicaland has now become accustomed to political violence and kidnappings.
Manicaland, with some 1.6 million inhabitants, is Zimbabwe's most densely populated province.
The scenic province has turned into a political hotbed as the country braces itself for a critical presidential poll due on 9-10 March.
The MDC says several of its members have been killed in Manicaland this year by government-backed activists.
A spokesperson for the MDC in Mutare, Pishai Muchauraya, says political violence has displaced up to 4,OOO opposition supporters in the province so far.
But Charles Pemhenayi, the Zanu-PF Manicaland spokesperson, says: "These guys in MDC manufacture lies, there is no such displacement.
"Besides, it is the MDC, not Zanu PF, engaged in political violence."
But as the deeply troubled country lurches towards polling day, ruling party membership cards have suddenly become a must-have item across Manicaland.
Zanu-PF officials attribute the demand to the party's growing popularity.
But many people who have bought the cards acknowledge privately that they have done so only as a security precaution.
Zanu-PF supporters have mounted road blocks across the region and those found travelling without party cards are routinely beaten up.
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