HARARE, Zimbabwe (AFP) — Zimbabweans prepared yesterday to cast their ballots in a long-awaited referendum on a new constitution, with tensions running high on the eve of the vote over fears of political violence.
The campaign, which has been blood-free by Zimbabwean standards, was marred by an attack yesterday on seven members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) by suspected supporters of veteran President Robert Mugabe.
The MDC members were assaulted as they put up posters in Harare's oldest township, Mbare, urging voters to approve the proposed constitution in today's vote.
The new constitution would lay the groundwork for watershed elections due in July that would end an often acrimonious, four-year-old power-sharing deal between Mugabe and his rival Tsvangirai.
Although the draft has the backing of both 89-year-old Mugabe and Tsvangirai, 61, and is expected to pass easily, tensions between supporters of the two main parties are seething after a series of bloody elections in the crisis-weary country.
"The attacks are a clear testimony that ZANU-PF (Mugabe's party) wants to embark on acts of violence," said MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora.
Two of the seven MDC members were seriously wounded in the attack, and parliament candidate Sten Zvorwadza was hit in the neck with a bottle and punched, he said.
A BBC crew filming the campaign said it was also attacked.
Police however said the incident was staged, questioning why it was not reported to authorities.
"This is clear testimony of a dramatised incident to provoke the anger of the residents and then they begin to tarnish the image of the country . This is quite disturbing. It's unfair," police spokesman Oliver Mandipaka told AFP.
Assistant police commissioner Lee Muchemwa later warned that the force would take action against those involved in "political machinations".
"May I warn all those belligerent forces bent on tarnishing the image of the Zimbabwe by stage-managing purported incidents of violence that as police we are aware of their political machinations and will decisively deal with them according to the country's law," Muchemwa told reporters.