Zimbabwe PM's party: 2 more staffers arrested

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 13:15 hrs

Zimbabwean police on Thursday arrested two more members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office staff, said his party, raising the number detained to six in what President Robert Mugabe's political rivals have described as a campaign of intimidation ahead of elections.

Tsvangirai takes the attacks on his staff as "an affront to democracy and the rule of law," said his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, in a statement.

Four party officials were arrested Sunday, along with prominent rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa who was trying to represent them during police searches of their offices and homes. A former councilman of Tsvangirai's party was also detained Sunday. A court denied all of them bail Wednesday and ordered them held in jail to reappear in the court on April 3.

Defense attorneys were trying through Thursday to lodge an urgent bail appeal at the Harare High Court.

The prime minister's party statement said two janitors at Tsvangirai's media and communications unit were driven to the central Harare police station Thursday.

The four top party officials in jail are charged with impersonating police officers because they were gathering information on the state's failure to prosecute cases of high level corruption.

Police officials said in court late Wednesday that only regular officers are empowered under the law to investigate alleged crimes and that it is an offense for private individuals to draw up "pseudo dockets." A docket is the local term for a charge sheet. Police seized documents from Tsvangirai's communications unit that they said resembled official charge sheets.

Tsvangirai reported the onslaught against his office to regional mediators in Zimbabwe's decade-long political and economic crisis, said Luke Tamborinyoka, the prime minister's spokesman, on Thursday. Tsvangirai informed leaders of neighboring countries of "the deteriorating situation as we begin preparations for elections," said Tamborinyoka.

After Zimbabweans voted overwhelmingly in support of a reformed constitution on Saturday, national elections to end a shaky and violence-troubled coalition government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai are expected sometime in July. The coalition was forged by regional leaders after the last disputed elections in 2008.

Tsvangirai described the arrests as efforts to divert attention from his party's democratic agenda, said Tamborinyoka.

Mugabe is scheduled to return to Harare Thursday from Rome, where he attended the inaugural mass of Pope Francis. He left on Sunday for Vatican City, which is not affected by a ban him on visiting most European countries to protest his human rights record and alleged vote rigging in past violent elections.

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