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ZIMBABWE: Death rate mounts in political violencejohannesburg, 7 February 2002 (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's political violence claimed 16 lives in January, the highest figure recorded so far, according to a report by a human rights umbrella group.
"This is the highest number of deaths recorded in any one month since the first politically motivated murder that was recorded in March 2000," the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said in the report released on Wednesday. "This figure may be higher [still] as it is possible that other deaths went unreported."
The rights group identified only two of the fatalities as being supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF. It alleged that "carefully orchestrated violence" was part of a "modus operandi to crush opposition party support" ahead of the 9-10 March presidential election.
The report said attacks continued on schoolteachers in particular, "whose recognised competence to influence and inform their communities has long been considered a threat by the government".
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) spokesman, Learnmore Jongwe, told IRIN that while ZANU-PF publically urged non-violence, it "has absolutely no intention of dropping violence in this election campaign. They need this climate of intimidation in the run-up to the poll."
Jongwe said that no-go zones for the opposition in several parts of the country, new legislation that disenfranchises Zimbabweans that live abroad, and his party's lack of access to state media, meant that "one can easily come to the conclusion that the election is not going to be free and fair, even if the MDC wins it".
Jongwe said that under Zimbabwe's new public order legislation, the MDC had been barred by the police from holding 63 rallies across the country, restrictions that had not applied to ZANU-PF. He alleged that where rallies had taken place, road blocks had been thrown up by the police with the aim of turning back supporters.
The state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday quoted police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena as denying the accusation. He emphasised that under the Public Order and Security Act, organisers of public gatherings are required to give four days written notice to the police.
"It must be appreciated that as a necessary strategy to prevent crime, the police are deployed on to the roads to search motor vehicles and individuals as a security measure to weed out those carrying dangerous weapons," said Bvudzijena. "Many people have been arrested for carrying dangerous weapons to rallies, which they could use to inflict injuries on others."