Tsvangirai withdraws his party from election saying to continue would cost supporters' lives

By Chris McGreal in Harare and Julian Borger, diplomatic editor

June 23, The Guardian

The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday pulled out of this week's presidential election in Zimbabwe, saying he is not prepared to ask people to die by voting for him, and accusing Robert Mugabe of "waging a war against the people".

The Movement for Democratic Change leadership met and decided to withdraw from what it called a "violent, illegitimate sham of an election" amid the murders by the ruling Zanu-PF militia and security forces of 100 opposition activists, the torture and rape of thousands of MDC supporters, and a state-orchestrated campaign of terror across swathes of the country.

"Mugabe has declared war, and we will not be part of that war," the opposition leader said.

The British, American and French governments immediately denounced the Mugabe regime for the collapse of the elections, and the crisis will move to the UN security council today as the international community considers new sanctions against the Zanu-PF leadership.

"If Mugabe thinks this finishes it, he's in for a big surprise. He has united the world against him," Mark Malloch Brown, the foreign office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, told the Guardian.

The White House added: "The government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now."

In his statement, Tsvangirai said he had little choice but to withdraw: "The militia, war veterans and even Mugabe himself have made it clear that anyone that votes for me in the forthcoming election faces the very real possibility of being killed.

"We in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote could cost them their lives. We believe a credible election, which reflects the will of the people, is impossible."

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photo: Poster showing Zimbabwe's opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images