February 8, 2011 / 9:25 AM / in 7 years

Zimbabwe parties trade blame after mob rampage

* More than a dozen arrested

* ZANU-PF and MDC trade accusations over violence

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Police have arrested more than a dozen youths after a mob looted shops in Harare, and the two main parties in Zimbabwe’s uneasy unity government traded accusations over who was to blame for a spate of violence.

Police said they had allowed youths from President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to demonstrate against Harare city council for awarding a car parking contract to a South African firm but the protest had been infiltrated by criminals.

“We have arrested some known criminals from Mbare (a suburb) and we are still investigating the group that infiltrated the march,” police spokesman James Sabawu told Reuters on Tuesday.

A Reuters witness saw shattered windows and empty shops early on Tuesday. Most of the shops remained closed.

Members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have warned unity government partner and rival Mugabe to drop plans for an early election, saying the poll could lead to a bloodbath. The state-owned Herald newspaper said those arrested in Monday’s incident were suspected MDC supporters and quoted Defence Minister and Mugabe ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as blaming Tsvangirai for the violence.

Tsvangirai told Fox News in an interview last month there was nothing wrong with Zimbabweans demonstrating against the government as Egyptians have done. State media then accused him of inciting violence. “As far as we are concerned, the violence that erupted in Harare was caused by the prime minister’s remarks that what happened in Tunisia and what is happening in Egypt right now should also happen in Zimbabwe,” said Mnangagwa.

Finance minister and MDC secretary general Tendai Biti accused the police of working with ZANU-PF and said although his party members were being provoked, they would not retaliate.

In a rare joint statement by the rival parties -- also signed by a small third party in the unity government -- ZANU-PF and MDC Harare provincial leaders on Saturday called for an end to political violence. [ID:nLDE714022]

Tsvangirai says ZANU-PF militants, led by war veterans, are targeting MDC structures ahead of a possible general election later this year.

Mugabe, in power for about three decades, is pushing for an election two years ahead of schedule despite the MDC saying the political climate is not yet right for a free and fair vote.

Elections in 2008 led to mass violence and a flood of refugees over the border into neighbouring South Africa. (Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Andrew Roche) (macdonald.dzirutwe@reuters.com; +263 4 799112) (For more Africa cover visit: af.reuters.com -- To comment on this story email: SouthAfrica.Newsroom@reuters.com)

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