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Rule Of Law Lacking In Zimbabwe

A group of Movement For Democratic Change supporters take refuge at the party's headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe Friday, Feb, 4, 2011. The group was attacked by suspected Zanu-PF supporters in Harare and other parts of the country.

The recent spate of political violence in Zimbabwe demonstrates how easily fear, anger, and desperation can turn a nation against itself.

The recent spate of political violence in Zimbabwe demonstrates how easily fear, anger, and desperation can turn a nation against itself.

With tensions rising amid speculation over possible elections this year, youth and opportunists associated with elements of ZANU-PF have attacked innocent merchants and shoppers, as well as MDC members, in the capital Harare and other communities.

The attacks have left dozens of people injured in the last two weeks. In the most serious incident to date, more than 4,000 youths descended on Harare's central Gulf shopping center and flea market, trashing and looting stands and beating merchants and shoppers.

Police in the area did eventually respond, but only after much damage had been done. The youths assembled at ZANU-PF’s provincial headquarters on 4th Street following the incident. Comments from the Zimbabwe Republic Police suggest that they have arrested only individuals affiliated with MDC in response to the recent episodes of violence.

This month marks the second anniversary of the Global Political Agreement intended to bring an end to political violence and restore democracy in Zimbabwe through the establishment of a transition government. The GPA enshrined the unity government's structures and mechanisms in Zimbabwe’s constitution when parliament adopted Amendment 19. MDC officials have entered government and oversee key ministries and the economic picture has improved. But the recent politically-motivated violence and looting in Harare show how fragile these advancements are.

The United States condemns this violence and calls on all parties to renounce violence as a political tool. The U.S. also urges all Zimbabweans to reject calls to promote political change through violence. Law enforcement must be part of the solution and the police should enforce the law without regard for the political affiliation of those who violate it.

These recent events undermine the GPA and put the country at risk of taking a step back from the democratic reforms that ZANU-PF and the two formations of the MDC agreed to two years ago. With improvements in the economy and the ability of many people to live relatively stable, albeit struggling, lives, now is the time for all parties to reinforce -- in words and action – that even the smallest political violence is unacceptable.