The Zimbabwean opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai and other party officials were detained by police while campaigning on Wednesday and were taken into custody, his party said.
Tsvangirai, who faces President Robert Mugabe in a runoff election scheduled for June 27, had been addressing political supporters in Lupane, north of Bulawayo, and was driving to Tsholotsho when his convoy of four vehicles was stopped at a roadblock in the early afternoon.
He and several other party officials were taken to a police station in Lupane, according to the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. The party’s vice president, Thokozane Khupe, and chairman, Lovemore Moyop, were among those reported to be detained.
“This is bizarre,” said Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the MDC. “It’s outrageous. Who has heard of a candidate campaigning peacefully being detained?”
Tsvangirai fled his homeland days after winning the most votes in a presidential contest in March 29, choosing temporary exile because of fears he would be assassinated. He delayed his return at least once when his party received what it called credible, specific intelligence about a plot to kill him. He returned to Zimbabwe on May 24 to lead campaigning in the runoff election.
Since the first round of voting, state-sponsored violence against his supporters and party workers has intensified, as Mugabe’s government, in power for 28 years, has mobilized the police, the army and thugs in what human rights groups call a systematic campaign of retribution and an attempt to destroy the opposition’s support network.
In recent days, relief agencies said the government had begun to clamp down on international aid groups it accused of backing the opposition. CARE, one of the largest nonprofit groups working in the country, has been ordered by the Zimbabwean government to suspend all its operations — denying hundreds of thousands of the country’s poorest people access to food and other basic humanitarian assistance.