Airforce commander was shot and wounded in Zanu internal power struggle

HARARE – A Zimbabwean Airforce commander and ally of President Robert Mugabe was shot in an assassination attempt at the weekend, state media said on Tuesday.

Minister of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi was quoted in the government-controlled Herald newspaper as saying the attack that wounded Air Force Commander Perence Shiri on Saturday appeared to be part of attacks against high profile figures designed to destabilise the country.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alleges that Shiri and several military commanders led a violent election run-off campaign in June that its leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted over attacks on his supporters.

"The attack on Air Marshal Shiri appears to be a build-up of terror attacks targeting high profile persons, government officials, government establishments and public transportation systems," Mohadi was quoted as saying.

Shiri was shot on the way to his farm that was seized from a white commercial farmer in 2000. He escaped with a gunshot wound and is recovering at a Harare hospital.

Mugabe’s government has in the past accused the MDC of terror tactics as part of a campaign to remove the veteran leader, who has been in power since 1980.

Dozens of MDC members have been arrested on terror charges but have been cleared by the courts. The MDC says Mugabe uses the charges when under pressure, especially from Western foes who are calling on him to step down over a humanitarian crisis.

A cholera epidemic and Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown have drawn new calls from Mugabe’s Western foes for the resignation of the 84-year-old leader, who has ruled since independence in 1980.

The United Nations said on Monday the death toll from cholera had risen to nearly 1,000.

Prospects for rescuing Zimbabwe appear slim while Mugabe and Tsvangirai remain deadlocked over their Sept. 15 power-sharing deal.

State media said at the weekend that Zimbabwe might be forced to hold a new election if a constitutional bill to set up the new government failed to get through parliament, where Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party lost its majority in March.

The MDC said it was ready to take part in any new election, but only if held under international supervision. Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of a presidential vote but withdrew from a run-off, citing attacks on his supporters.

Mugabe’s government says the cholera outbreak is a calculated attack by former colonial ruler Britain and the United States, describing it as "biological warfare" to create an excuse to mobilise military action against Zimbabwe