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Zimbabwe Police Open Fire; 1 Killed

May 26, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Police opened fire on a group of ruling party supporters, fatally wounding one man, when they attempted to free 19 people jailed for political violence, police said Friday.

For three hours more than 50 ZANU-PF supporters attempted to storm the police station in Mvurwi, 90 miles north of Harare, prompting paramilitary police to fire tear gas and live rounds over the heads of the mob, said Assistant Inspector Tarwireyi Tirivavi.

One man was hit in the thigh at close range by a tear gas canister and later died in a hospital, Tirivavi said from police headquarters in the capital.

The mob was attempting to free 19 fellow party members who had been arrested for attacking opposition supporters. But the 19, arrested during rioting with opposition supporters Sunday and Monday, had already been transferred to Bindura prison, 60 miles north of Harare.

The killing marked the first time a member of President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party has been slain in political violence that began in February.

The violence started after Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum that would have strengthened his powers and allowed him to seize white-owned land. Right after the referendum, black squatters began occupying white-owned land. More than 1,400 farms have since been occupied, according to the Commercial Farmers Union, which represents mostly white farmers.

The farmers say the agitation for land reform is really a cover for a ZANU-PF terror campaign against the opposition. Mugabe has been in power since he led Zimbabwe to independence from Britain in 1980.

In the past three months, one policeman and at least 22 opposition supporters have been killed by ZANU-PF loyalists.

Malcolm Vowles, chairman of the Commercial Farmers Union in Mvurwi, said police were ready for Thursday’s attack.

``Police knew there was a crowd coming to (fire) bomb the police station so they were prepared,″ Vowles said. ``They fired tear gas and live rounds. One of the protesters was injured and had died in hospital.″

A Commercial Farmers Union statement issued in Harare said some police districts were now taking an active role against violence perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters after standing by for the past three months.

However, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Friday that in other districts, police and members of the feared Central Intelligence Organization were still intimidating suspected opposition supporters.

Farm takeovers have continued, but one group of squatters mistakenly tried to occupy land in a game reserve, according to one report.

A group of 100 people tried to claim land at Gona-re-Zhou, on Zimbabwe’s southeastern border with Mozambique, they ``had to run for dear life″ when their presence angered a pride of lions, police told the Daily News.

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