Robert Mugabe Imprisons Babies and Children To Suppress Opposition

Christina Lamb & John Makura

Scores of children and babies have been locked up in filthy prison cells in Harare as Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, sinks to new depths in his campaign to force the opposition into exile before an expected run-off in presidential elections.

Twenty-four babies and 40 children under the age of six were among the 250 people rounded up in a raid on Friday, according to Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Yesterday they were crammed into cells in Southerton police station in central Harare.

“This is ruthlessness of the worst kind. How can you incarcerate children whose mothers have fled their homes hoping to give their children refuge?” asked an emotional Chamisa yesterday. “In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe even children are not spared the terror that befalls their parents.”

The families were rounded up from MDC headquarters, where they had sought refuge from violence in the countryside.

Thought to be directed by top military officers, Operation Where Did You Put Your Cross? has prompted thousands to flee. They are trying to escape the so-called war veterans, who are attacking people and burning down hundreds of houses for voting “incorrectly” in last month’s elections.

“What we’re seeing is an undeclared civil war,” said Chamisa. “It’s genocide. This situation is out of control, it’s now beyond the capacity of the MDC alone. It requires the region, the continent, the international community to act.”

Four weeks after the elections, official results have still not been released for presidential polls widely thought to have been won by Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader.

Simultaneous parliamentary elections saw the ruling Zanu-PF party lose its 28-year-long majority. The election commission is engaged in the recount of 23 constituencies after regime claims that they had been rigged by the opposition. None of the results has been overturned in the 14 so far announced. Even if the remaining nine were to go to Zanu-PF it still would not have won a majority.

While some Zimbabweans see a glimmer of hope in this, Mugabe has remained defiant in the face of international condemnation. Most expect the regime to announce that no candidate won a majority in the presidential election and to order a run-off next month which Mugabe will ensure that he wins.

“The only game in town is a run-off,” said George Sibotshiwe, Tsvangirai’s spokesman. “The recount was just to buy them time to smash people’s heads in, so when they go for a run-off nobody will even be thinking of voting.”

The regime’s strategy is to ensure that by the time of the run-off, Mugabe would have a clean sweep in rural areas, where 70% of Zimbabweans live. A police officer admitted yesterday that he had been instructed not to interfere with war veterans as they carry out their campaign of terror.

At the same time the opposition leadership has been driven into hiding or abroad. Tsvangirai fled Zimbabwe two weeks ago after he was charged with treason for “conspiring with the British to oust Mugabe”.

“I am unable to return home for fear of my life,” he wrote in The Washington Post last week.

On the ground the party’s network of district officials is being decimated. Tichanzii Gandanga, the MDC election agent for Harare province, can barely walk after he was beaten and left for dead.

Four men arrived at his offices in central Harare at about 6pm on Wednesday. “They told me I knew my crimes and so I had to confess,” said Gandanga. “They blindfolded me, bundled me into a truck, then drove for a long distance, beating me on the head, on the back, everywhere. They played loud music so that no one could hear my cries. I don’t know how I survived.”

As he was being beaten, Gandanga was questioned about the whereabouts of Tsvangirai. Eventually he was dumped in the bush. He managed to crawl to a main road where he was picked up and taken to the head of a nearby village.

For two days Gandanga was nursed by villagers. Eventually he got word to his relatives who moved him to a private hospital.

Ten people have been killed so far, according to the MDC, including a five-year-old boy who was burnt to death in a hut. The first victim on April 12 was Tapiwa Mubwanda, 54, the organising secretary for the MDC for Hurungwe East.

According to his widow they were on their way back to their village when they saw a group of Zanu-PF youth militia. While she fled into the bush with their children, her husband and his elder brother were beaten with rocks. “They said, ‘You voted for the MDC, now we want to do this in order to teach you to vote. You wasted your vote by voting for Tsvangirai. He will never be the president of Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe will remain, so we want to teach you to vote’.”

When she crept out of hiding her husband was dead.

Another MDC activist, Manyika Kashiri, 55, of Chigumbu village in Uzumba, had his foot smashed by an axe when militias stormed into his shack at midnight on Tuesday. Kashiri woke after a bang at his door and rocks smashing against his windows. When he emerged, he was hit with a log by one of the militias and another tried to chop off his right foot with an axe in front of his grandchildren, one of whom was just four.

“We’re seeing a major increase in government-sponsored violence,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The ruling party has been sending its allies after people it thinks voted for the opposition. Now anyone seen as opposing Mugabe is in danger.”

One activist, a 25-year-old fitter in hiding in Bulawayo, told The Sunday Times how he and two colleagues had been picked up by intelligence officers and forced to eat a poster of Tsvangirai. “You like him so much, now eat him,” they told him.

“Every day that passes, hope is seeping away,” said an aid worker in Zimbabwe. “This could very easily end up being yet another stolen election.”

Zimbabwe’s churches said yesterday that they had opened up their premises to victims of the violence.

Church leaders worldwide have declared today to be a day of prayer for Zimbabwe. “The current climate of political intimidation, violence, vote-rigging and delay has left the presidential election process without credibility,” read a statement from two senior Anglican archbishops, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu. “Now the people of Zimbabwe are left even more vulnerable to conflict heaped upon poverty and the threat of national disintegration.”

International pressure has continued. The top US envoy for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state, has declared Tsvangirai the clear winner of the presidential vote.

Tsvangirai has spent the past two weeks travelling round Africa trying to drum up support to pressure Mugabe to step down. After the weak response from Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, focus has shifted to the African Union (AU). Its chairman Jikaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania, has privately said that he would be willing to consider convening a summit on Zimbabwe.

Britain is hoping to get the United Nations involved and has managed to put Zimbabwe on the agenda of the UN security council this week. Proposals include an arms embargo and sending a UN envoy to Harare “with a tough message”.

At the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo on Friday, Mugabe was defiant. “When the West, led by the British, shamelessly continue to denounce our country, what is our crime?” he asked. “We are simply defending our hard-won national sovereignty.”

Sphere: Related Content

US Marines Deployed To Afghanistan To Boost NATO Coalition


U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

They hope to retake the 10 percent of Afghanistan the Taliban holds.

Some of the Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq. The newly arrived forces hope to move into regions of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban.

The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province — the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan — much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commander.

Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Lynch expects the Marines, who arrived last month on a seven-month deployment, will help calm Helmand as well.

"If you flood a city with Marines, it's going to quiet down," Lynch said in between sets of push-ups on Helmand province's sandy ground. "We know for seven months we're not here to occupy, we're just here to set conditions for whoever comes in after us."

Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles since losing hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in fall 2006, and it's not clear that Taliban fighters will stay to face the Marines in regions they operate.

Lynch, a mobile assault commander, said he doesn't care if the militants flee: "Just get the Taliban out of here, that's the biggest thing."

Western countries, including the U.S. and other NATO nations, have been sending more troops to Afghanistan as violence has escalated.

More than 8,000 people, mainly militants, were killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, the U.N. says.

The number of suicide attacks spiked in 2007, with the Taliban launching more than 140 suicide missions, the highest number since 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. now has 32,500 troops in the country — the most since the 2001 invasion. In late 2006, Afghanistan had 40,000 international troops. Today, that number is almost 70,000.

But Western officials have warned in recent months that the international mission could fail. Washington has lobbied for NATO nations to provide more troops in Afghanistan, and in particular to add forces in the southern and eastern areas which have seen most of the recent fighting against the resurgent Taliban.

The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that neither Britain nor Canada — which operates in nearby Kandahar province — have enough troops to control the region. But commanders and troops say the countries are working well together.

British Capt. Alex West helped deliver supplies to a remote and dusty firebase in Helmand province about a week ago.

"We spent the last operations borrowing kit (gear) off you, so it's about time you borrow stuff from us," said West, 29, of Colchester, England. "All of us have been in operations where the American have helped us, so we're happy to help."

The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever flashpoint he wants. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent bases in the east.

The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by ground convoys the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task. Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15.

Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, the commander of the logistics battalion, gave a pep talk to a supply convoy last week, hinting at operations to come.

"You all are gonna move down there so the BLT (battalion landing team) can go in there and kick some Taliban butt," he said.

They have also been given directions to steer clear of the region's poppy fields so they don't risk alienating local farmers who rely on the cash crop for their income.

Counter-insurgency doctrine calls for forces to first clear a region of militants, hold that region and then build up government institutions and businesses. But the Marines are in the country for only seven months, meaning they don't have time to hold and build regions. But it's not clear if there are enough other NATO troops to hold areas, either.

"We are the clear piece," said Clinton. "There are others who will do the holding and building. We're clearing and doing some holding."

While riding in a 47-vehicle convoy through the sands of Helmand province this past week, 1st Lt. Dan Brown said the terrain reminded him of other missions.

"If you didn't know any better you'd think you were in Anbar right now," he said, referring to western Iraq.

Sphere: Related Content

Wesley Snipes To Begin His 3 Year Jail Sentence Soon

Actor Wesley Snipes has been sentenced to three years in prison for willfully failing to file US income tax returns for the years 1999 to 2001.

Reuters reports that the 'Blade' star was convicted in February on three misdemeanor counts.

US District Judge William Terrell Hodges gave Snipes the maximum sentence, saying that it was important to create a deterrent against tax defiance.

The actor told the judge: "I am very sorry for my mistakes and errors. This will never happen again."

Prosecutors said that Snipes had earned over $38m since 1999 but had not paid any taxes or filed returns for the years 1999 to 2007 prior to last Thursday.

Snipes legal team tried to give the judge three envelopes with cheques totaling $5m but the judge and prosecutor said they could not accept the payments and they were collected by an Internal Revenue Service agent during the recess.

Prosecutors described the attempt to give the judge cheques as a "grandstanding move".

In a statement, Snipes described himself as an "idealist, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritual-seeking artist" and said he epitomized the colloquialism "mo' money, mo' problems".

The judge told Snipes that he would be contacted by prison officials about when his sentence would begin.

Snipes plans to appeal but prosecutors intend to oppose any request to allow him to stay out of prison while the appeal is pending.

Sphere: Related Content

Illinois Earthquake Measures 5.4

An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 5.4 struck southern Illinois early Friday, and was felt throughout the Chicago and Indiana area.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake struck with an epicenter about six miles from downstate West Salem, at 4:36:57 a.m.

Police scanner traffic also indicated that it was felt throughout the city and across the northern Illinois.

Other reports shows that the earthquake was felt as far north as Kokomo, Rochester and Warsaw in Indiana, as well as in Evansville and Indianapolis. It shook tall buildings in downtown Indianapolis.

Reports also shows that there have been several calls to 911.

The New Madrid Fault is the largest center for seismic activity in the area. It was not immediately returned if the New Madrid Fault was origin of the earthquake.

Earthquake Details

Magnitude 5.4


* Friday, April 18, 2008 at 09:36:57 UTC
* Friday, April 18, 2008 at 04:36:57 AM at epicenter

Location 38.501°N, 87.898°W
Depth 10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program

* 10 km (6 miles) ESE (103°) from West Salem, IL
* 10 km (6 miles) NE (55°) from Bone Gap, IL
* 13 km (8 miles) N (4°) from Bellmont, IL
* 39 km (24 miles) WSW (239°) from Vincennes, IN
* 66 km (41 miles) NNW (333°) from Evansville, IN
* 204 km (127 miles) E (93°) from St. Louis, MO

Location Uncertainty Error estimate not available
Parameters NST=021, Nph=021, Dmin=263.2 km, Rmss=1.07 sec, Gp=119°,
M-type=moment magnitude (Mw), Version=1


* West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center/NOAA/NWS

Event ID at00851141

* This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.

Sphere: Related Content