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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 12:03 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Masvingo
President Robert Mugabe yesterday scoffed at the Commonwealth, saying his government did not care whether or not it was suspended.
Addressing Zanu-PF supporters in Masvingo yesterday, Mr Mugabe said "There is no (Commonwealth) economic policy and therefore we would not mind if the decision to suspend us from the grouping is taken".
Mr Mugabe's remarks came when the Commonwealth countries were discussing the possible suspension of Zimbabwe for allegedly violating human rights.
Mr Mugabe said the campaign to suspend his country was being pushed by the British because they do not want to lose Zimbabwe.
On his presidential campaign Mr Mugabe pleaded with Eddison Zvobgo, a former cabinet minister, to campaign for him saying although there might be differences, they have to fight a common enemy.
Mr Zvobgo is a respected politician in Masvingo and is a leader of a strong Zanu-PF faction.
The Zvobgo faction had refused to campaign for Mr Mugabe, accusing him of clinging on to power for too long.
This means that the ruling party is going into the presidential poll sharply divided.
The MDC has not been campaigning in Masvingo for the past five days because of the volatile situation in the country due to political violence.
Three Catholic priests and three other church members at St Anthony's Mission in Zaka district were yesterday beaten up by suspected Zanu-PF youths.
They were attacked for allegedly talking to two people from the US Embassy.
The priest in charge of the mission, Father Joseph Odermatt, together with Father Joseph Wyss, Father Peter Chimombe and church members Theresa Gweto, Philip Wuersch and Afra Mukandwa, sustained serious injuries following yesterday's attack.
According to Reverend MacDonald Musvosva, the vicar general of Masvingo diocese, the incident took place soon after the two officials had left.
They visited St Anthony┐s Mission and hospital to inquire about its performance and the general situation there.
After a tour of the mission, the two visitors met Father Odermatt, and asked about the state of affairs in the surrounding community.
They also discussed the plight of the people of Zaka - especially the food shortages and political situation.
Father Odermatt told them that supporters of Zanu-PF and MDC had clashed on several occasions, affecting the lives of local people.
Following the meeting, hordes of Zanu-PF supporters armed with sticks besieged the mission demanding to know who the visitors were.
They started hitting the victims on their faces. Reverend Musvosva said: "In a very short time a group of suspected Zanu-PF youths gathered to interrogate the priest."
After being physically manhandled, the six were forced into a vehicle and driven to a Zanu-PF base. There the churchmen were harassed for allegedly associating with whites.
The victims were later taken to Zaka police station where they were questioned and then released.
Police in Zaka confirmed the incident and said investigations were in progress.
Two opposition MDC activists in the Gutu district of Masvingo, Farai Rusinga and Darlington Chizhande were reported to be in a coma yesterday after they were attacked by suspected Zanu-PF supporters.
On Sunday hordes of pro-government activists hurled petrol bombs at Crispa Musoni's house in Gutu.
Mr Musoni was the MDC candidate who stood against Vice-President Simon Muzenda.
Property worth Z$1 million (US$20,000) was destroyed when rowdy youths stoned Mr Musoni's shop.
"They wanted to kill me when they threw petrol bombs at my houses. I am feeling very unsafe," Mr Musoni said.
Last Thursday, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had to scurry for cover after police fired four shots into the air before hurling teargas at his motorcade at Sese business centre in Chivi district of Masvingo.
The police accused him of holding an illegal rally, an allegation denied by the MDC leader.
"We were only greeting our supporters along the high way when police fired shots into the air. Police and war veterans have come up with an alliance to intimidate and harass our supporters," he said.
President Robert Mugabe's campaign in Masvingo suffered a serious set-back this week when Zanu-PF heavyweight Eddison Zvobgo refused to campaign for him, saying he was clinging on to power.
"No one was born a president," he said.
Zanu-PF officials had been using Mr Zvobgo's name to improve attendance at campaign rallies.
However Mr Zvobgo who has been a cabinet minister in Mr Mugabe's government for 20 years has snubbed them, saying he is too busy and that as a simple party member he could not lead the presidential campaign.
The party's support has dwindled drastically due to factionalism and the government's failure to provide food to over 1 million starving villagers in the province.
Masvingo urban is an MDC stronghold where the MP Silas Mangono trounced Zanu-PF's Dzikamai Mavhaire in the June 2000 parliamentary elections.
The MDC 's Alois Chaimiti also won the Masvingo mayoral seat in May last year beating Zanu-PF's Jacob Chademana to become the opposition's first executive mayor in the country.
However, most of Masvingo is rural, where President Robert Mugabe's trump card of land may deliver him votes in spite of the worst drought in living memory.
Self-styled war veterans and Zanu-PF supporters have turned Gutu district into a terror-zone.
Over 10,000 people have been displaced in the district - around 10% of the area's registered voters.
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