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Zimbabweans seek refuge at U.S. Embassy

  • Story Highlights
  • Embassy spokesman: Officials exploring housing options for refuge-seekers
  • U.S. Embassy in Harare: 220 Zimbabweans seeking refuge from violence
  • People in crowd say they've been driven from homes by supporters of ruling party
  • Country in political crisis since disputed vote in March, presidential runoff last month
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- About 220 Zimbabweans congregated outside the U.S. Embassy in Harare on Thursday, seeking refuge from election-related violence, embassy spokesman Mark Weinberg said.

People seeking refuge sit on a curb and sidewalk outside the U.S. Embassy in Harare on Thursday.

People seeking refuge sit on a curb and sidewalk outside the U.S. Embassy in Harare on Thursday.

By evening, embassy officials were moving "most of the women and children into safe houses," and were trying to get water and blankets for the growing crowd, Weinberg said.

Some of the refuge-seekers, identifying themselves as supporters of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, said militia members supporting President Robert Mugabe's party destroyed their homes or were hunting them because of their affiliation, according to a journalist at the scene.

CNN is not identifying the reporter for security reasons.

The journalist said the refuge-seekers, some holding their possessions, sat outside the building Thursday afternoon, waiting to be addressed by a U.S. Embassy official. A few of the people had bandaged wounds, according to the reporter.

"The people I can see right now look very miserable, dejected, confused," the reporter said. Video Watch the refuge-seekers wait outside the embassy »

The MDC has said its members were targeted by supporters of Mugabe during the weeks surrounding March's presidential election and last week's runoff.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff, citing violence, intimidation and allegations of vote-rigging. That left Mugabe as the only runoff candidate, allowing him to claim re-election.

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Tsvangirai himself fled to South Africa for a short time in March during the campaign season, saying he feared for his safety. He also sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare on June 22, shortly after announcing he was withdrawing from the runoff. He returned to his Harare home this week, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Several Western nations denounced the violence and declared Mugabe's runoff victory illegitimate. Reports of violence have continued after the runoff.

On Monday, the MDC claimed that a politician from the party was abducted at gunpoint outside a courthouse in the city of Mutare.

The assailants, who the MDC said wore military outfits, took Naison Nemadziva, a lawmaker who recently won a seat in parliament against a member of Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

The MDC claimed in a press release that the kidnapping was by supporters of ZANU-PF and that police had not been able to find the lawmaker.

This week, a resolution from the African Union in Egypt called for negotiations between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, and some European Union officials have called for a coalition government in Zimbabwe with Tsvangirai as its leader.

But Tsvangirai this week said the "conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe ... are not conducive" to negotiations with Mugabe.


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday said Mugabe "has blood on his hands" after the violence leading to the runoff and should step down.

Mugabe has been Zimbabwe's only leader since its independence from Britain in 1980, when it was called Rhodesia.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeMorgan Tsvangirai

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