Rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai together on Friday condemned political violence in Zimbabwe and said parties should freely hold meetings at a time when tensions are rising ahead of possible elections in 2012.
Last week Tsvangirai said violence was on the increase and Mugabe’s supporters and state security agents were to blame.
On Friday Mugabe and Tsvangirai addressed a joint meeting of senior members of their respective parties and said “endemic” political violence had to end ahead of the next elections, likely to be both parliamentary and presidential.
Zimbabwe’s votes over the last decade were marred by political violence, one of the reasons Western powers imposed sanctions on Mugabe and senior members of his ZANU-PF party.
“We have committed heart and soul that we ensure that our country is without violence. We want to live in a peaceful country,” Mugabe said.
The 87-year-old leader said he had been discussing the issue
with Tsvangirai during weekly meetings, adding that parties should set up inter-party committees across the country to stop violence.
Tsvangirai and Mugabe said their relationship had changed from one of hostility to one of friendly opposition and urged party supporters to emulate this.
“Let us differ with dignity. Violence is a collective national shame,” Tsvangirai said at the same meeting.
Talk of a possible election next year has reignited violence, which had decreased after Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a unity government more than two years ago following a disputed election in 2008.
Police have in the past few weeks disrupted Tsvangirai’s rallies in the western Matabeleland region where his MDC won the majority of parliamentary seats in 2008.
Suspected ZANU-PF militants last Sunday forced Tsvangirai to cancel a big rally when they attacked MDC youths in Chitungwiza town outside Harare.
Mugabe said he was sincere in calling for an end to violence and parties should not force people to attend rallies.
He also said the police should protect all citizens, noting that there were complaints some officer stand by when ZANU-PF members attack Tsvangirai’s supporters.
“Let us walk the talk of peace. This is our sincere plea from our hearts,” Mugabe said.
“People must hold their meetings freely. Don’t stand in the way of those who are holding a meeting.”
The parties also agreed on a code of conduct against political violence.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say the veteran leader has clung to power by using violence against opponents and through coercion and patronage to retain support within ZANU-PF.
He is ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate in the next vote.