Zimbabwe campaigns enter final frenetic stages

Associated Press
Zimbabwean President and Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe addresses party supporters at his last campaign rally in Harare, Sunday, July, 28, 2013. Mugabe is set to contest against his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai in an election set for July 31. (AP Photo/Str)
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Frenetic campaigning entered its last stages Sunday for make-or-break elections in Zimbabwe on July 31 with both main contenders calling for their supporters to turn out in large numbers to cast votes.

President Robert Mugabe, 89, spoke for two hours Sunday at the main 50,000-seat sports stadium in Harare that was not filled to capacity. He said his ZANU-PF party will rescue the troubled economy with a renewed black empowerment program. His campaign organizers said 1,138 foreign-owned companies still operating in the southern African nation will be targeted to yield 51 percent control to blacks.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told enthusiastic crowds of his supporters at another sports arena that he wants to create jobs and rebuild the economy with new investments. He said Mugabe ruined the once prosperous nation through reckless policies.

"We want to build, not destroy. We will remove dictatorship using democratic means," Tsvangirai said.

Amid concerns of voting rigging, lawyers for Tsvangirai's party said Morgan Komichi, a top party official and the deputy transport minister in the coalition government, was arrested for questioning by police earlier Sunday.

Komichi reported being handed voting papers from a special ballot that was held July 14-15 for uniformed services on duty on election day. He said the papers, which carried votes for Tsvangirai's party, were found in a garbage can outside a convention facility where the state election commission has its command center. He said they had evidently been thrown away.

Police said he should have reported the find first to the commission before releasing the information.

Mugabe used his campaign to voice his criticism of same sex partners, telling a rally in the second city of Bulawayo on Saturday he believed in "castration" for homosexuals. Earlier, he described Tsvangirai as a "frog" and a "python" that nearly swallowed voters in the last disputed elections in 2008 that led regional leaders to intervene and form Zimbabwe's shaky coalition.

"We should make him vomit this time," Mugabe said. "Tsvangirai is a coward, more like my late Uncle Shoniwa's dog which used to run away from game when we went hunting. It died without killing a single prey and the same will happen to Tsvangirai."

Tsvangirai is to hold his last campaign rally in downtown Harare on Monday. He questioned Sunday why Mugabe wanted another five years in presidential office.

"What can he change which he didn't change in 33 years?" since independence from colonial rule in 1980.

Campaigning is disallowed on Tuesday, the eve of polling.

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