Mugabe Backers Stir Up Violence as Elections Approach

Armed Individuals in Zimbabwe Strike Opponents in Churches

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HARARE, Zimbabwe, FEB. 20, 2002 ( Violence and intimidation are escalating in Zimbabwe on the eve of the March 9-10 presidential elections.

The perpetrators are supporters of President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 22 years.

A missionary, Father Ives La Fontaine, told the Misna agency on Tuesday that «in some cases, armed people have entered churches during liturgical celebrations to remove or beat political opponents. So-called veterans of the war for independence, often really too young to presume such a title, act without any restraint.»

European Union countries adopted sanctions against Zimbabwe on Monday, following the expulsion last weekend of the head of the European inspectors for the elections, Swedish diplomat Pierre Schori. The United States joined the sanctions Tuesday.

«The situation is quite some worse than it was for the elections last June,» Father La Fontaine explained. «The [ruling] Zanu-PF militants do everything possible to impede opponents from participating in the voting.»

He added: «They take recourse to any means and deprive individuals, whom they suspect of sympathizing with the [opposition] MDC, of their electoral documents. Even one of our missionaries, who has been in Zimbabwe for the past 63 years, was erased from the list of voters.»

Meanwhile, U.S.-born Father Ken O´Doherty, a Mariannhill Missionary, 69, and other Christian pastors and lay people were released Monday after spending the weekend in prison, the Vatican agency Fides reported. They were arrested Saturday for attending a peace prayer service in Bulawayo.

The Christians had declined government sponsorship of the prayer service.

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