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Zimbabwe opposition leader says he'll leave embassy in next 48 hours

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been holed up at the Dutch Embassy in Harare, said Tuesday he will leave it in the next two days.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been holed up at the Dutch Embassy in Harare, said on Tuesday that he will leave the safe haven in the next two days.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, shown in a photo taken in April, fled to the Dutch Embassy on Monday. ((Denis Farrell/Associated Press))
"It was a temporary refuge," Tsvangirai said in an interview from the embassy with Dutch public broadcaster Radio 1. "So I will probably leave today or tomorrow."

A spokesman for Tsvangirai later said that in such an uncertain environment, the timeline could change.

The leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai withdrew from Friday's presidential run-off vote over the weekend then fled to the Dutch Embassy saying he feared for his safety. 

Zimbabwean officials have said the election would go ahead as scheduled and initially questioned why there had been no formal notice of Tsvangirai's decision. The MDC handed a letter to the electoral commission on Tuesday formally withdrawing from the vote, Reuters reported.

In the interview with Radio 1, Tsvangirai said the Dutch ambassador had spoken with Zimbabwean officials who assured them that Tsvangirai would be safe to leave the embassy.

"I hope that they mean what they say," said Tsvangirai. "This is a regime which is acting irrationally."

Tipster warned party of approaching soldiers

George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Tsvangirai, said the politician fled to the embassy after receiving a tip soldiers were en route to his home after Sunday's announcement that he was pulling out of the run-off.

He would not reveal the source of the tip, but stated that the soldiers' intentions were unclear. "The moment you have soldiers coming your way, you just run for your life," said Sibotshiwe.

Other opposition leaders are also in hiding out of fear that they would become easy targets at the party's headquarters, said Sibotshiwe.

On Monday afternoon, police raided the opposition party's headquarters in the capital of Harare, taking away dozens of supporters.

Tsvangirai's second in command, Tendai Biti, is in jail in Zimbabwe on treason charges.

Fair election 'impossible'

The 15-member United Nations Security Council on Monday voted unanimously to condemn Zimbabwe's government and said the "campaign of violence" waged by President Robert Mugabe's government has "made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place" this Friday.

The statement came after hours of wrangling, with the U.S., France and some other Western powers unsuccessful in their attempts to include language that Tsvangirai should be considered the legitimate president until another fair election can be held.

"There has been too much violence, too much intimidation," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told a news conference, and a run-off "would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible."

Tsvangirai praised the UN resolution: "I think it's a very important resolution. It recognizes the people who are accountable for the violence and squarely places that responsibility on Mr. Mugabe."

The non-binding statement was the Security Council's first formal action on Zimbabwe's political crisis.

The council's harsh words were especially significant since one of Zimbabwe's most loyal allies, South Africa, supported the resolution.

However, Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, called the resolution meaningless.

"The issue of validity of the election in Zimbabwe, that can only be determined by the people of Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe if they go to the polls and make a decision, that's their right," said Chidyausiku.

Tsvangirai's withdrawal unreported

It's unclear how many Zimbabweans know that the opposition leader dropped out of the election since state media hasn't reported his withdrawal, instead quoting government officials who predict a victory for Mugabe.

Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but did not secure an outright majority, opening the door to a run-off vote.

The opposition leader announced Sunday that he was stepping out of the race due to mounting violence and intimidation during the campaign.

Independent human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been forced from their homes ahead of the second round of presidential voting, with most of them opposition supporters.

In an interview with CNN television, Tsvangirai called for the international community to declare the run-off vote "null and void" and organize a new one.

With files from the Associated Press