Zimbabwe crisis deepens

Zimbabwe's opposition leader has fled to the Dutch Embassy saying he feared for his safety, while police on Monday raided his party's headquarters and took about 60 people away.

Morgan Tsvangirai went to the embassy Sunday shortly after announcing he was withdrawing from Friday's presidential runoff against longtime leader Robert Mugabe, citing violence against opposition supporters, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“He asked to come and stay because he was concerned about his safety,” ministry spokesman Rob Dekker said. There has been no request for political asylum, Dekker said.

Opposition spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo refused to comment on the report and referred callers to The Hague.

Mugabe's government said Friday's runoff will go ahead and Tsvangirai's name will remain on the ballot.

Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but did not gain an outright majority against 84-year-old Mugabe. That campaign was generally peaceful, but the runoff has been overshadowed by violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas. Independent human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Tsvangirai had returned to Zimbabwe a month ago to campaign despite information his party had said it received that he was the target of a state-sponsored assassination plot.

Since then, his top deputy has been arrested on treason charges – which carry the death penalty – and Tsvangirai has been repeatedly detained by police.

At a news conference in Harare late Monday, Zimbabwe's police commissioner, Augustin Chihuri, said neither Tsvangirai nor his party had come to police to report any threats, and that police were not seeking the politician.

“Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai is under no threat at all from Zimbabweans and he should cast away these delusions,” Chihuri said. “Zimbabwe is a peaceful country and this will remain so.”

Tsvangirai has survived at least three assassination attempts and last year he was hospitalized after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally. Images seen around the world of his bruised and swollen face have come to symbolize the plight of dissenters in Zimbabwe.

On Sunday, he pulled out of the violence-wracked presidential runoff, declaring the election was no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was too high.