, HARARE, June 13 – The number-two figure in Zimbabwe’s opposition was Friday facing a treason charge after his arrest within minutes of arriving back home to campaign in the June 27 presidential run-off election.
Police also detained Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai twice Thursday in central Zimbabwe, holding him for some two hours the first time, and about four hours the next, before releasing him.
Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, could face the death penalty if convicted of treason. The charge he faces centres on claims he plotted to rig an MDC victory in first-round elections three months ago.
Biti — an outspoken critic of President Robert Mugabe, 84, whom he accuses of trying to hang on to power at all costs — was arrested Thursday even before he reached passport control at Harare airport.
Tsvangirai is vying to topple Mugabe in a second round vote in just over two weeks’ time, after officially falling short of an overall majority in the first round of voting on March 29.
At the United Nations in New York, meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes warned that the upcoming harvest in Zimbabwe would likely feed only a quarter of the country’s people.
"I was briefing the council on what is a very worrying, very serious and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe," Holmes told reporters after he briefed the UN Security Council behind closed doors.
Holmes, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the food security situation in Zimbabwe was "deteriorating very seriously — with probably only a quarter of the needs of the country likely to be met by the forthcoming harvest."
More and more, he said, Zimbabweans need help, due to their difficult economic straits and the collapse of social services.
"Against that background … the decision (earlier this month) by the government to suspend field operations by international NGOs and private volunteer organizations working in Zimbabwe was particularly regrettable," Holmes added.
"I deplore that decision and I hope very much they’ll rescind it in the very near future."
Mugabe is facing the biggest threat to his 28-year rule from Tsvangirai, who is only taking part in the run-off under protest after claiming he in fact won more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.
Tsvangirai now has been detained by police on four occasions in the last eight days.
The opposition says more than 60 supporters have been killed since the initial polling as part of a campaign of intimidation.
Mugabe has banned Western observers from overseeing the polls, but he has authorised African monitors to monitor the second round — including a team from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community.