200 people seek refuge at US Embassy in Harare

Comes amid new reports of violence against Zimbabwean opposition supporters.

zimbabwe refuge 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
zimbabwe refuge 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Some 200 opposition supporters mobbed the US Embassy in Zimbabwe, seeking refuge amid new reports of violence against dissenters. Activists received good news, however, as two women who led peaceful protests against President Robert Mugabe were granted bail after almost six weeks in a bleak prison cell. Loyalists of Mugabe, whose unopposed re-election last week has been scorned by world leaders, have attacked supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Widespread state-sponsored violence had led the party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to pull out of the presidential runoff, leaving the June 27 race to Mugabe. On Thursday, people with small bundles of possessions milled outside the US mission in Harare. Among them were mothers with small children. One elderly man had a broken leg. It was not immediately clear if others had injuries. US Ambassador James McGee, speaking by telephone, said the group was from the opposition headquarters in Harare, which had become a refuge. He said embassy officials were working with humanitarian organizations to find accommodation for the group. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said riot police appeared briefly at the scene. In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said embassy staff did not see the group as a security risk and that they were outside the building's security perimeter. More than 300 opposition supporters who last week sought refuge at the South African Embassy in Harare have been taken to a camp outside the capital. Reports that violence and intimidation against opposition supporters have increased. "There has been a high increase in abductions, beatings and rapes since ZANU-PF claimed it had won the 'election' with a resounding victory," the opposition said in a statement. At least 80 opposition supporters were killed before the runoff, and the opposition says more than 10 have been killed since. A group of armed men in army uniforms abducted opposition lawmaker-elect Naison Nemadziva at gunpoint on Monday and his whereabouts were still unknown, an opposition statement said. Nemadziva had defeated a member of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for a parliament seat during March 29 elections. His opponent challenged the result, and Nemadziva was seized outside the courtroom where the hearing had been scheduled to take place. Also Thursday, two women activists were freed on bail nearly six weeks after their May 28 arrest during a peaceful protest in Harare, spokeswoman Annie Sibanda of Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise said. The activists, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, have been charged with disturbing the peace and publishing statements prejudicial to the state. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice honored Williams last year with an International Women of Courage Award. "I am very happy to be out," Williams said, shortly after being released. "I woke early this morning wondering if by evening I would be in my own bed or back in a prison cell." Williams and Mahlangu were being held in the notorious Chikurubi prison, where they had no running water and had to sleep on a concrete floor amid harsh winter temperatures. "It's very tough," Williams said. "There is no segregation of prisoners. We were there with murderers and thieves." However, Williams said she was determined to continue with the peaceful protests. "I will be in the front of the next demonstration we hold," she said. Elsewhere in Zimbabwe, a group of thugs invaded the Imire Safari Ranch, a designated black rhino breeding area 90 miles northeast of Harare, the ranch owner said. The ranch has had previous problems with poachers. John Travers said six men invaded the ranch Sunday, threatened to harm him unless he left, and forced him to shoot three impala for the men to eat. Travers said another group of men arrived Wednesday night and threatened to kill him and his wife if the two did not leave by Thursday morning. Both were still at the ranch, also home to elephants, hyenas and buffalo, on Thursday. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority could not immediately be reached, but Travers said he had contacted them and was "very confident" that they would respond.