11 January 2002
The main challenger to President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's presidential election next March has played down a declaration by military commanders that is seen by analysts as a refusal to support anyone but Mr. Mugabe as president.
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, says the armed forces will obey the vote of the electorate.
In a brief 10-minute news conference in Harare, the capital, on Friday, Mr. Tsvangirai praised what he called the "professional integrity" of the army and police and said the MDC values their contribution to Zimbabwe's sovereignty.
"I strongly believe that all the security forces and their leadership are sworn not only to uphold the constitution, but are also loyal to the people of Zimbabwe," Mr. Tsvangirai said.
The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change emphasized that he will be the party's presidential candidate in the March 9 and 10 vote.
"We absolutely have no intention of abandoning the people when we have come to the closing hours of what has been a long and difficult journey towards democratic change. Let me add that we are ready to form Zimbabwe's next government," the opposition leader said.
In a departure from his usual practice, Mr. Tsvangirai declined to answer questions, giving no reason.
Political analysts said this could be connected to the introduction of the Public Order and Safety Law, which bans virtually all criticism of the government and the president.
On Thursday, Zimbabwe's parliament passed two controversial laws to help President Robert Mugabe keep his grip on power.
The first law bans independent election monitors and denies voting rights to Zimbabweans abroad. The other law makes it a crime to criticize President Mugabe, and gives sweeping new security powers to the government.