Just three weeks before Zimbabwe's presidential runoff, Robert Mugabe is giving the opposition little room to campaign, detaining its candidate, banning rallies and attacking diplomats who try to investigate political violence.
Even food is being used as a weapon, U.S. and British officials said, with a ban on aid agencies ensuring that the poorest Zimbabweans must turn to Mugabe for help even if they blame him for the collapse of the economy. The government denied the allegations.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe and two other candidates in the first round of voting March 29 but did not get the simple majority necessary to avoid a runoff. In recent days, it has become increasingly clear that Mugabe does not plan to let Tsvangirai come close to toppling him in the June 27 runoff.
Tsvangirai tried to campaign around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, on Friday, but he was stopped at two roadblocks. At the second, he was ordered to go to a police station about 30 miles from Bulawayo.
About two hours later, he and reporters with him were allowed to leave the station. They drove back to Bulawayo under police escort.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said police had banned its rallies out of concern for the safety of Tsvangirai and other party leaders.
Meanwhile, U.N. aid agencies said they were concerned that Zimbabwe has ordered aid groups to halt operations. Without the private agencies, impoverished Zimbabweans will be dependent on the government and Mugabe's party, both of which distribute food and other aid.
U.S. Ambassador James McGee said Zimbabwean authorities were now supplying food mostly to Mugabe supporters. In a videoconference from Harare, McGee said the U.S. Embassy has evidence that the government is offering food to opposition members only if they turn in identification that would allow them to vote.
At the U.N., Zimbabwe Ambassador Boniface Chidyauskiku denied those charges.
“There is no use of food as a political weapon. It is the other way around. It is the relief agencies, followed by the U.S. government, that have been using food as a political weapon,” Chidyauskiku said.