Police Stop Mugabe Presidential Opponent

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Police stopped Zimbabwe's opposition presidential candidate from campaigning Friday, first frustrating his convoy at road blocks, then escorting it back to a main city, an official from his party said.

Morgan Tsvangirai had been trying to campaign around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. He was stopped at two roadblocks, and the second time ordered to go to a police station about 50 kilometers from Bulawayo.

About two hours later, he and reporters with him were allowed to leave the police station. They drove back to Bulawayo under police escort.

Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said Tsvangirai was told he would not be able to campaign Friday. Police said the schedule, including a rally at a mine, had not been authorized.

Tsvangirai's campaign to unseat Robert Mugabe has been hobbled by violence and intimidation. The state-controlled media, meanwhile, has focused almost entirely on Mugabe.

In a statement, Tsvangirai's campaign called the police intervention Friday "yet another shameless and desperate act by the Mugabe regime" to frustrate the opposition's campaign.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said he was not aware of Friday's incidents, but said that it is not uncommon for police to stop drivers at roadblocks to ensure they are not transporting weapons.

"Tsvangirai and his convoy are not immune to search," he said. "They can be searched at any roadblock they pass."

He also said candidates had been informed they needed to inform police before holding a political rally.

On Thursday, a day after Tsvangirai said he was detained for nine hours at another police station near Bulawayo, Bvudzijena denied that police were interfering with the opposition campaign.

Tsvangirai out-polled Mugabe and two other candidates in the March 29 first round of presidential voting, but did not garner the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to avoid a runoff, which is scheduled June 27.

Opposition and human rights groups accuse Mugabe of orchestrating violence to ensure he wins re-election amid growing unpopularity for his heavy-handed rule and the country's economic collapse.

On Thursday, aid groups in Zimbabwe were sent a memorandum from social welfare minister Nicholas Goche ordering an indefinite suspension of field work. Mugabe's government has been accused of using food as a weapon.

Millions of Zimbabweans depend on international groups for food and other aid as the economy crumbles.

Aid deliveries to more than 4 million people in the African country will be severely hampered by the decision, said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Friday. More than half Zimbabwe's population live on less than $1 a day and life expectancy is only 35 years, according to the UN

UN agencies generally carry out their operations in the country with the help of other aid groups, Byrs said.