Zimbabwean police appear to be cracking down on foreign reporters and opposition politicians Thursday, as President Robert Mugabe prepares to consult with key party officials on whether to fight for the presidency.
About 30 police in riot gear entered a hotel used by foreign reporters in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. Police later said they had arrested two foreign journalists for "practising without accreditation," said Reuters.
Police said they would identify the reporters on Friday, but the New York Times confirmed its reporter Barry Bearak was one of those taken into custody.
A handful of Western journalists have been in Zimbabwe since last week to cover last Saturday's vote, which saw Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party lose control of Parliament.
One of those Western reporters in the country is CBC reporter Adrienne Arsenault, who said she's not certain the hotel raid was aimed at accredited or non-accredited journalists working in Zimbabwe. She was not at the hotel.
Some hotel owners have been warned that police are on the lookout for journalists, Arsenault said.
Opposition offices raided
Police also raided a Harare hotel used by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and ransacked some rooms. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is reportedly safe, but cancelled plans for a news conference.
Arsenault, who was briefly detained and released earlier Thursday, said most people expect Friday will be the day either a winner is declared, or a run-off election is announced.
"We all sense tomorrow, something is coming," she said. "Tonight it begins with a crackdown."
Opponents fear if a run-off is declared, Mugabe will turn to war vets and his feared youth supporters, a violent militia known as the Green Bombers, to harass and intimidate voters.
Arsenault said she has had an increasingly difficult time speaking with people in public.
"People want to speak with us, but they're afraid of who's watching and who's listening to them," she said. "It's much more aggressive on the streets right now."
Mugabe to meet advisers
Mugabe, who is facing the biggest crisis in 28 years of rule, has summoned his top party leaders and advisers to a meeting Friday.
"All I can confirm is there is a politburo meeting. That's enough, that's all I can say at the moment," said senior ZANU-PF official Didymus Mutasa.
Analysts suggest Mugabe is gauging whether he has enough support to win a run-off vote.
"These are the people he will listen to," said Arsenault, adding that all indications so far appear to be that Mugabe intends to fight for his presidency.
Despite losing the country's parliamentary election, Mugabe has won the majority of ballots cast, deputy information minister Bright Matonga told Reuters on Thursday.
"From ZANU-PF's perspective, we are very confident that we've got the numbers, when it comes to a rerun, we're ready for that second round, and we are confident that President Robert Mugabe will win this time," Matonga was quoted as saying.
"We think, and it is my assumption … there may not be a clear winner of the presidential one [vote] and it points to a rerun."
Mugabe's party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since the country's independence in 1980, following the March 29 presidential and legislative elections. Zimbabwe's constitution, however, dictates that parliament is largely subservient to the president, who retains most of the power.
Mugabe's party won 97 of the 210 seats in the House of Assembly, while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won 99 seats, the state-run newspaper, the Herald, reported Thursday. A breakaway MDC faction won 10 seats and an independent candidate won one. Results of three byelections aren't available.
The opposition has already claimed victory for its leader, former trade unionist Tsvangirai, although ZANU-PF has rejected their assertion.
Matonga's statements Thursday are the strongest symbol yet that Mugabe, a former anti-colonial fighter, will not easily give up his grip on power, which has been tarnished in recent years with an economic collapse that has seen annual inflation rise above 100,000 per cent and unemployment run at 80 per cent.
Told friends he has lost: reports
The 84-year-old leader met with the head of an African Union election observer team at his home in Harare, state television reported Thursday. Images shown on television were the first pictures of Mugabe since Saturday's election.
Sierra Leone's former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah told ZTV that Mugabe "looked very relaxed, and is of the view that the problems of the country will be resolved amicably, and he is very relaxed about it."
Meanwhile, South Africa's leading financial newspaper, Business Day, said Thursday that Mugabe has privately admitted his defeat to family and friends, and was still deciding whether to hand over power or contest Tsvangirai's victory.
"Mugabe has conceded to his closest advisers, the army, police and intelligence chiefs. He has also told his family and personal advisers that he has lost the election," Business Day quoted an unidentified source as saying.