Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Seeks Refuge With Dutch

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[Zimbabwe Elections]

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy in Harare, saying he was concerned about his safety, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Tsvangirai went to the embassy shortly after announcing he was withdrawing from Friday's presidential runoff against longtime leader Robert Mugabe, citing violence against opposition supporters.

"He asked to come and stay because he was concerned about his safety," ministry spokesman Rob Dekker said.
The request was approved in The Hague by Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen. There has been no request for political asylum, Dekker said.

News of Tsvangirai's presence at the Dutch Embassy came shortly after Zimbabwean police raided the headquarters of his party and took away about 60 people.

Opposition spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo refused to comment on the report and referred callers to The Hague. Rijs said he could not speculate why Tsvangirai chose the Dutch Embassy. But he noted that the Netherlands was a strong supporter of human rights groups in Zimbabwe although it did not finance any political parties.

Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but did not gain an outright majority against 84-year-old Mugabe. That campaign was generally peaceful, but the runoff has been overshadowed by violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas. Independent human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Last year, Tsvangirai was hospitalized after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally. Images seen around the world of his bruised and swollen face have come to symbolize the plight of dissenters in Zimbabwe.

He has survived at least three assassination attempts and he postponed his return to Zimbabwe last month after his party said he had learned of another plot to kill him.

Tsvangirai had applied for a new passport earlier this month and Zimbabwean officials refused, saying he lacked proper police clearance. His current passport has not expired but its pages are full.

On Sunday, he pulled out of the violence-wracked presidential runoff, declaring that the election was no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

The announcement cleared the way for Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite mounting condemnation from even loyal African allies that the former independence hero has become a despot who has bankrupted the country's once thriving economy.

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the runoff would go ahead in accordance with the constitution — and to prove Zimbabweans' support for Mugabe, who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980.


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