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Zimbabwe violence escalates

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Post-election violence in Zimbabwe has escalated sharply, with thousands of farmers pushed off their land and gangs loyal to President Robert Mugabe beating to death several opposition members. Fears of a political and economic meltdown have prompted some African leaders to intervene.

The number of opposition members killed has now risen to 32 following Zimbabwe's election on March 29, The Washington Post reports:

In response to the rising violence, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who has been criticized for his "soft diplomacy" on the crisis, traveled to Zimbabwe on Friday in his capacity as head of the Southern African Development Community, Agence France-Presse reported. He was to meet Mr. Mugabe for the first time since the March vote results were announced. Opposition members said they had not been contacted for any talks with Mr. Mbeki.

The violence in Zimbabwe stems from the fact that Mr. Mugabe lost the first round of presidential elections and has delayed the election results by five weeks, Agence France-Presse explains.

The crisis deepened on Thursday, when the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party, said it would not participate in a presidential run off, Reuters reports.

Analysts fear that Zimbabwe is quickly unraveling, and headed for an economic meltdown. Haroon Siddiqui, editorial page editor emeritus of The Toronto Star, writes:

But there might be little that opposition can do, he adds.

Opposition members and observers blame Mugabe for the violence, accusing his Army of supporting militias and violent gangs that are targeting the opposition. The Army, however, has said it is not involved, Voice of America reports.

Among those also targeted are said to be a growing number of Zimbabwe's farmers. Reuters reports that the move appears to be part of an escalating campaign of intimidation.

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Farmers' groups said ZANU-PF has pushed 40,000 workers off farms in a campaign targeting supporters of the opposition ahead of a possible presidential run-off. The groups said armed youth militias drove workers off the farms.

"We have had security agents going out to the farms, addressing the farm workers," Gertrude Hambira, general secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe, told a news conference in Johannesburg.

"Some of them saying that we need to discipline you because you voted for the opposition," she said adding [that] 400 workers were in hiding and three were in hospital after being assaulted.

The British Broadcasting Corp., meanwhile, reported that a "war veterans" militia planned a campaign of intimidation during any run-off vote. A policeman told the BBC that members of the militia would pose as police officers and be based at polling stations.

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