Tsvangirai aide kidnapped

Harare – Suspected state agents in Zimbabwe abducted an official from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), bringing to at least 19 the number of MDC supporters and civil society activists to have been whisked away without trace in recent weeks, an MDC official confirmed on Tuesday.

Gandhi Mudzingwa, a former personal assistant to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai who was working on the party’s transition policy, was hijacked by a group of armed men while driving in Harare Monday evening, George Sibotshiwe, a spokesperson for Morgan Tsvangirai, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The MDC suspects his abductors were members of the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which is also suspected of the abduction last week of prominent activist Jestina Mukoko.

Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was taken from her home by around a dozen armed men. Her whereabouts is unknown. Two other members of the ZPP have since also been abducted.

Meanwhile, a group of 15 MDC members that were detained by police around a month ago in Mashonaland West province are also still missing, despite a High Court order that they be brought to court or released.

The disappearances are part of a new crackdown by Mugabe’s regime against the opposition that began after talks between his Zanu-PF party and the MDC on the formation of a unity government foundered on the distribution of positions of power.

Some analysts believe that Mugabe may again be trying to "soften up" the opposition in advance of possible fresh elections.

"That’s a definite possibility," Brian Raftopoulos, director of research and advocacy for the Solidarity Peace Trust, a South Africa- based NGO that campaigns for freedom and democracy in Zimbabwe.

"There was always speculation that if the mediation (between the parties) stalled, Mugabe would hammer structures in the country and call new elections," Raftopoulous told a Johannesburg news conference.

Mugabe himself last week told a group of supporters to "be ready" for new elections.

It is unclear how such a move, which the MDC would likely oppose, would resolve Mugabe’s legitimacy issues. His re-election as president in an unopposed, violent vote in June was dismissed by the international community as a "sham." – Sapa-dpa

– SAPA