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Mugabe supporters disrupt rally

Tsvangirai accused the ruling party of acting like "animals"  

CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe -- Hundreds of supporters of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attacked people leaving an opposition election campaign rally.

About 500 Mugabe followers, armed with clubs and stones, swarmed around the exits of a stadium in Chinhoyi late on Sunday after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had left the venue.

Tsvangirai had vowed to end a "reign of terror" if he took power in the March 9-10 election. Mugabe hopes to extend his 22 years in power by being re-elected.

Supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party also threw rocks at cars leaving Chinhoyi, Mugabe's hometown, including one that observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said was carrying members of their election monitoring team, Reuters news agency reported.

Police dispersed the ZANU-PF crowd at the stadium in Chinhoyi, a ZANU-PF stronghold.

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Tsvangirai has accused Mugabe of intimidation and planning to rig the vote, criticisms shared by the U.S. and European Union, which have imposed personal sanctions on Mugabe and his close associates.

The EU pulled out its election monitors last week saying they could not carry out their job freely.

Tsvangirai said ZANU-PF were acting like "animals," peppering his speech with swear words as his anger grew at the rally.

"We will not allow them to run around the country like wild animals," he said.

"Mugabe wants to be the only choice and he wants to achieve that even through his reign of terror....

"We are going to inherit a country in a mess, a country that has been raped by political violence."

The Nigerian head of the Commonwealth observer team said a car used by one of his officials was attacked after the rally and he urged the government to act against political violence.

"It is critically important to ensure that there is a peaceful atmosphere in which all parties can campaign freely without fear of violence," said former Nigerian head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

"I trust that the authorities will take the necessary steps to ensure that voters are able to freely express their will and all observers are able to perform their duties for which they have been invited by the government of Zimbabwe without feeling threatened," he said in a statement issued on Sunday night.

Although the European Union pulled out its observers, saying they were not being allowed to work freely, a mission from the Commonwealth, which groups mainly Britain and its former colonies, began its monitoring programme in earnest on Sunday.

Abubakar, said he would be sending 20 teams of two throughout the country soon.

"Our concern will be purely with the electoral environment and the process rather than the outcome," he said.

Chinhoyi, about 115 km (70 miles) northwest of Harare, was the scene of fighting last August when Mugabe's supporters forcibly seized white-owned farms as part of the president's controversial land-reform programme.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said on Sunday that the government had slashed the number of polling stations that would operate next month in MDC strongholds and increased them in areas where ZANU-PF did well.

In a rally on Saturday, the 78-year-old Mugabe defended his land reform programme and accused Britain of backtracking on a promise to help redistribute land in its former colony, where he says the white minority still owns the greater part of the land.


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