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Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday warned against attacks by supporters of President Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe maps out a new constitution with 13 public meetings called off in the capital.
"Zanu-PF supporters and their allies continue to commit abuses with impunity, and the police remain partisan," said Rona Peligal, the New York-based body's Africa director.
"The government of Zimbabwe needs to put a halt to the attacks and allow the constitutional outreach to proceed without violence."
Outreach meetings on a new constitution since June have seen increasing violence and intimidation, HRW said. An attack claimed the life of a supporter of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last week.
The violence was mainly by supporters of Mugabe's former sole ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), or its war veteran allies.
"In the past few days, the violence has worsened, as the outreach meetings have moved to the capital, Harare, and the city of Bulawayo.
Because of the violence, 13 meetings in Harare were suspended," HRW said in a statement.
Zimbabwe is creating a new constitution as part of a road map by the unity government to fresh elections, after veteran leader Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a unity government last February following months of turmoil.
"This violence and intimidation do not bode well for the referendum and elections that could be held next year," cautioned Peligal.
"Without rights reforms and accountability for continuing abuses, the kind of violence that plagued the 2008 elections is likely to happen again."
The unity pact calls for a new constitution to be approved in a referendum, paving the way to new elections.
Terror stalks Zim elections
M&G - JASON MOYO - Sep 28 2010 10:29
Edson Gwenhure recalls how, one by one, they were picked off by bullets as they fled their burning house. Gwenhure was an election agent for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the 2008 elections.
One night, at a house he shared with other MDC activists in the southern Gutu district, the doors were barricaded from outside, the house doused with fuel and set on fire. As the house's burning occupants broke out through the door, they were cut down by gunfire.
Gwenhure survived the attack, but pictures of the charred, riddled bodies of two of his colleagues awoke Zimbabweans to the extent of the violence in the run-up to the 2008 run-off election, when President Robert Mugabe claimed victory despite a boycott by his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader.
In Muzarabani, north of Harare, Morris Chabvondeka's two sons were beaten to death and their bodies dumped in a maize field. Today, he struggles to feed his sons' seven children. "I have no way of feeding them and they are being prevented from attending school because their parents were MDC [activists]," Chabvondeka says.
His sons' killers still walk free, and they continue to threaten his family. He finds the Zimbabwe government's message of "national healing", a programme urging forgiveness, hard to accept. "I just want them to stand trial," he told the Mail & Guardian.
On Monday, to sobs and gasps from a conference room, Chabvondeka and Gwenhure bravely gave their testimony to Tsvangirai. Impatient with the coalition government, Tsvangirai has been pushing for a new poll. But after the grim testimonies of his supporters, who pleaded with him not to call for elections and a weekend of attacks on public hearings on a new constitution, he is being forced to rethink it.
A woman told him how her husband was found dead after days of torture at a militia camp. She put him in a wheelbarrow to take him to a hospital, but Zanu-PF activists seized him along the away. That was the last she saw him alive. His mangled body was found stuffed in a sack and buried in a shallow grave.
Last year in June, a year after he was killed, she finally buried him. For a year, Zanu-PF militiamen had refused her permission to mourn. Two years after Taengwa Chokuda, an MDC activist, watched his son Moses being killed, Moses's body still lies in a hospital mortuary in the rural Gokwe area.
Chokuda insists his son's killers must see justice before he buries him. There are many more, as bitter and fearful. A group that provides support to violence victims says more than 20 000 mostly rural victims sought medical and psychological support at a centre in Harare. Thousands more still need help.
Fears of renewed violence grew this weekend after five people were injured in Harare townships in attacks on public hearings for a new constitution. Zanu-PF militants even employed farcical tactics to disrupt meetings.
At the start of one meeting in Mbare township, a woman rose to chant what she called a prayer -- she asked God to give Zimbabwe leaders "not possessed by British demons". The disturbances stalled the constitutional reform process that is at the centre of the roadmap towards a free election.
"I will not commit anyone to any election if it is a declaration of war, "Tsvangirai told the violence victims. The weekend disturbances had been "a reminder of the dark past and a threat to a bright future", he said.
An election next year would be the eighth time Zimbabweans have gone to the polls since 2000. With memories of 2008 still fresh and the economy recovering, there is little public support for a new round of balloting.
So brazen were the weekend attacks on the public hearings that even the Herald, the state-owned daily, published a critical editorial. "At the top, the leaders have found each other and can disagree without pushing matters to the extreme. There has been a genuine effort to treat each other with respect, but the same cannot be said of the lower ranks," the paper wrote.
Business groups have written to Mugabe to ask him not to call elections, and the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said the country cannot afford elections and is still caught up in a cycle of violence.