Zim­babwe leader es­capes ex­plo­sion

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Zim­babwe’s pres­i­dent was un­scathed by an ex­plo­sion at a cam­paign rally that state me­dia called an at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate him, later vis­it­ing his two in­jured vice pres­i­dents and declar­ing the ‘‘cow­ardly act’’ will not dis­rupt next month’s his­toric elec­tions.

Dra­matic footage showed a smil­ing Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa walk­ing off the stage and into a crowded tent where the blast oc­curred sec­onds later, send­ing up smoke as peo­ple screamed and ran for cover. Of­fi­cials said Mnan­gagwa was whisked from the sta­dium rally to a nearby gov­ern­ment build­ing in Bulawayo, a tra­di­tional op­po­si­tion strong­hold.

The ex­plo­sion went off a ‘‘few inches away from me, but it is not my time,’’ the pres­i­dent told state broad­caster ZBC. Mnan­gagwa, who has joked openly about mul­ti­ple at­tempts on his life in the past, said he was used to them by now.

At least eight peo­ple were in­jured. Vice Pres­i­dent Kembo Mo­hadi had leg in­juries, while Con­stantino Chi­wenga, a sec­ond vice pres­i­dent and the for­mer mil­i­tary com­man­der, had bruises on his face, the re­port said. Most of the in­jured were dis­charged from a hospi­tal af­ter treat­ment, pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ge­orge Charamba said.

The blast and the lack of clar­ity about who was be­hind it in­jected new un­cer­tainty into prepa­ra­tions for the July 30 elec­tions, the first since long­time leader Robert Mu­gabe stepped down in Novem­ber af­ter a mil­i­tary takeover. Mnan­gagwa, who had been fired as Mu­gabe’s deputy in a rul­ing party feud shortly be­fore the power tran­si­tion, took over with pledges to de­liver free and fair elec­tions.

Mnan­gagwa said on Twit­ter that he was await­ing fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the blast but added, with­out elab­o­rat­ing, that those re­spon­si­ble must have come from ‘‘out­side Bulawayo.’’ He added: ‘‘I can as­sure you these are my nor­mal en­e­mies.’’

He had fled Zim­babwe shortly af­ter his firing in Novem­ber by Mu­gabe, who along with his wife, Grace, had sharply crit­i­cised the man who had been his clos­est con­fi­dant for many years.

Mnan­gagwa ap­pealed to the south­ern African na­tion for unity. ‘‘The cam­paign has been con­ducted in a free and peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment, and we will not al­low this cow­ardly act to get in our way as we move to­wards elec­tions.’’

Zim­babwe’s main op­po­si­tion leader, Nel­son Chamisa, said on Twit­ter: ‘‘Our prayers go out to the in­jured and we hope no lives have been lost. Vi­o­lence must have no place in our politics. ‘‘

The United States and Bri­tain were among coun­tries that con­demned the ex­plo­sion. The US Em­bassy said on Twit­ter that ‘‘po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence in any form is un­ac­cept­able’’ and con­trary to the progress needed to move Zim­babwe for­ward and ‘‘take its place on the global stage.’’

Zim­babwe’s elec­tion next month will be the first with­out Mu­gabe since in­de­pen­dence from white mi­nor­ity rule in 1980. Mnan­gagwa, a for­mer jus­tice and de­fence min­is­ter who served for decades as Mu­gabe’s en­forcer, has in­vited West­ern elec­tion ob­servers for the first time in al­most two decades.

Past votes have been marked by vi­o­lence and fraud, and the United States and oth­ers have said a cred­i­ble vote is key to lift­ing in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions. – AP

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