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US ambassador refused to buy MDC spin

United States ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee refused to buy Movement for Democratic Change spin that a march in the capital had attracted more than 30 000 people, saying instead it had only attracted hundreds.

He had been given the figure by MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa and party president Morgan Tsvangirai had confirmed Chamisa’s figure.

“Embassy officers who observed the march estimated there were only several hundred participants marching and about 1 000 at the rally itself,” the ambassador said.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 08HARARE67, POLICE SHUTDOWN MARCH, BUT MDC MANAGES TO RALLY

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

08HARARE67

2008-01-23 16:16

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXRO9166

PP RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHSB #0067/01 0231616

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 231616Z JAN 08

FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2418

INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY

RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 1825

RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 1736

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 1862

RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0456

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1139

RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 1496

RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 1918

RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 4346

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0989

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC//DHO-7//

RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC

RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK//DOOC/ECMO/CC/DAO/DOB/DOI//

RUEPGBA/CDR USEUCOM INTEL VAIHINGEN GE//ECJ23-CH/ECJ5M//

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000067

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN

USAID FOR L.DOBBINS AND E. LOKEN

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/23/2018

TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL ZI ASEC

SUBJECT: POLICE SHUTDOWN MARCH, BUT MDC MANAGES TO RALLY

 

REF: HARARE 00042

 

Classified By: CLASSIFIED BY AMB. JAMES D. MCGEE FOR REASONS 1.4 (D)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: On January 23, a magistrate’s court upheld

the police ban on a planned Movement for Democratic Change

(MDC) protest march, but gave permission for the MDC to hold

a rally. Police responded with violence to efforts by MDC

supporters to march to the rally location, in defiance of the

court order. Emboffs estimate that about a thousand

protesters ultimately assembled near the announced rally

point; MDC leaders later claimed 30,000 participants. The

events of January 23, which began with the detention of MDC

leader Morgan Tsvangirai, support MDC charges that the GOZ

has no intention of leveling the playing field before

elections. END SUMMARY.

 

2. (C) On January 23, at about 4:00 am, police dragged MDC

president Morgan Tsvangirai from his home and interrogated

him at police headquarters regarding a planned MDC

demonstration. Tsvangirai was released several hours later.

After his release he informed the Ambassador that he had not

been harmed.

 

3. (U) On January 18 the police had given written permission

for a January 23 MDC march, but on January 21 the authorities

rescinded the permit citing unspecified “intelligence.” The

MDC challenged the decision in court and a hearing was set

for the morning of January 23. Only an hour before the

planned start time of the march, a magistrate gave permission

for the rally, but upheld the denial to march citing public

security concerns.

 

4. (U) At 1:00 PM a group of about 200 opposition supporters

set out from MDC headquarters marching west against traffic

along Nelson Mandela Avenue heading toward the Magistrates

Court. Scores of supporters joined the group which quickly

swelled to more than 350 marchers, who were dancing in the

streets, blowing whistles, and waving posters. Several truck

loads of riot police descended on the marchers and used tear

gas and batons to disperse them.

 

5. (U) Small groups of about 25 MDC supporters then engaged

police in running clashes over a six block area for

approximately 30 minutes. Police went after the groups with

batons, tear gas, and dogs. In one encounter, police were

seen beating at least five marchers on the ground before

forcing them into an unmarked truck. Some marchers were seen

throwing rocks at police.

 

6. (U) An estimated 1,000 MDC supporters later gathered in a

large open field near the announced rally point, where they

sang songs, danced, and listened to speeches. A large

contingent of riot police, with two water cannon trucks,

observed the event from a distance. The group peacefully

dispersed after approximately one hour.

 

7. (U) The government tried to dissuade MDC supporters from

turning out today by threatening a strong show of police

force and sowing confusion. A January 22 headline in the

state-run Herald newspaper read “MDC March Called-off,” and

government radio reported the march was prohibited and would

not take place. On the morning of the march, police erected

roadblocks along all major arteries coming into the city

center.

 

——-

Comment

——-

 

8. (C) The opposition had hoped to attract a crowd like the

10,000 plus that turned out for a rally in one of Harare’s

 

HARARE 00000067 002 OF 002

 

 

high-density suburbs over the weekend (reftel);

government-sown confusion and threat of force kept the

numbers down. In an effort to spin what turned out to be a

disappointing turnout, MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa told

us that upwards of 30,000 people had marched and gathered,

and Tsvangirai confirmed this figure to the Ambassador.

Embassy officers who observed the march estimated there were

only several hundred participants marching and about 1,000 at

the rally itself. Police rescission of permission to march,

not to mention the use of force to disperse marchers,

represents a GOZ derogation from the spirit of the SADC talks

that are intended to open up democratic space and provide a

level electoral playing field for the opposition.

MCGEE

(3 VIEWS)

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