President Robert Mugabe may be the only candidate contesting today's internationally condemned election in Zimbabwe, but opposition party officials said Thursday that militias loyal to him have threatened people across the country: Show up to vote or else.
In Chitungwiza, a working-class suburb of the capital, Harare, residents said that men in police uniforms barged into at least 11 homes Wednesday night and warned the occupants to vote.
In Marondera, 45 miles southeast of Harare, a gang of young Mugabe supporters – clad in the ruling party's signature green bandannas – confronted a resident at his home Thursday morning warning that if he didn't vote, they'd kill him.
Mugabe's victory was assured days ago when challenger Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race. Dozens of Tsvangirai's supporters have been killed in what diplomats and human rights groups describe as a state-sponsored terror campaign against his popular opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
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But Mugabe, whose 28-year dictatorship has driven this southern African nation to the brink of economic collapse, hasn't let up. Although he's blamed opponents for the election violence, critics say that his regime is using force and intimidation to guarantee a high voter turnout today and therefore a mandate – however dubious – that he can flaunt before his growing legion of critics in Africa and around the world.
The 84-year-old Mugabe has shown little interest in talks with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, and his government had scoffed at the opposition leader's call Wednesday to work together to form a transitional authority.
But at a campaign rally Thursday, Mugabe said: “We remain open to discussion with the MDC.” Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said that did not indicate a softening toward the opposition, however, and any contacts could only take place after Friday's vote.
Mugabe also told the crowd he would be going to Egypt, where a meeting of African Union heads of state is to be held Monday – presumably to attend as a victorious re-elected president.
The United States, Britain and several African nations have called for the vote to be postponed, but Mugabe has refused to bow. The Associated Press contributed.