HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe (search) branded opposition supporters "traitors" and warned on Tuesday that an election victory by the top rival party would not be tolerated, raising fears of violence two days before Zimbabweans choose a new parliament.
Mugabe's comments, which were broadcast repeatedly on state radio, followed Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube's (search) call on Sunday for a "nonviolent mass popular uprising" if the ruling party wins Thursday's parliamentary election by fraud.
Similar comments by the president in the past have encouraged the ruling party and its youth militia to take violent action against candidates from the Movement for Democratic Change (search) and its supporters.
"All those who will vote for the MDC are traitors," Mugabe said Monday at a rally for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (search) in Mutoko, 90 miles northeast of Harare.
In a separate speech on Tuesday, he also rejected the possibility of sharing government with the opposition, saying an MDC win would "not be tolerated." He spoke to about 15,000 party supporters at a rally in Bindura, 55 miles north of Harare.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai (search), who narrowly lost presidential polls in 2002, did not respond to Mugabe's comments during speeches Tuesday at two rallies in his home region of Bindura, 125 miles south of the capital.
But he blasted Mugabe's policies, which he said had driven Zimbabwe's once thriving economy into the ground.
"Zimbabwe has been destroyed, farms have been destroyed, industry has been destroyed and education has been destroyed. Even relations with other countries have been destroyed," Tsvangirai said, calling on all parties to work together to rebuild the country.
Tuesday was expected to be the last day of campaigning, but electoral officials said additional rallies would be permitted Wednesday.
Tsvangirai arrived late at his first appearance Tuesday and police cut his address short, informing him that his party had only requested permission to gather until 12:30 p.m. All political gatherings require police authorization under Zimbabwe's draconian security laws.
Ncube, one of Zimbabwe's most outspoken church leaders, said Mugabe's "traitor" comments revived ominous memories of moves against suspected opposition voters after previous elections.
"It may be quiet now, but we are not sure what will happen after these elections," Ncube said in a telephone interview from Zimbabwe's second-largest city Bulawayo. "You are dealing with people who bullied everyone into silence in the past."
Ncube said he has been followed and all his telephones are tapped.
In 1985, tens of thousands of black families were evicted from their homes into midwinter cold until they could produce ruling party cards. That year, Mugabe told victorious supporters: "Now take your sticks and beat out the snakes among you."
Parliamentary elections in 2000, in which the opposition won 57 seats, and presidential elections two years later were marred by widespread state-sanctioned political violence and intimidation, according to Western observers.
The U.S. State Department said it was pleased that Zimbabwe's parliamentary election campaign has been violence-free this year but criticized the government's overall behavior during the process.
Spokesman Adam Ereli said the administration was encouraged that the MDC has been able to hold rallies in most parts of the country and he held out the possibility that the election may be credible. "Until we see what the results are, I don't want to prejudge the outcomes," he said.
Ereli's comments were a departure from the from the normal sustained U.S. criticism of a country that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called "an outpost of tyranny."
Reginald Matshaba-Hove, director of Zimbabwe's independent Electoral Support Network, said he was concerned about Mugabe's comment and had asked foreign observers to stay in the country for at least a week after the polls because of fears of renewed violence.
Zimbabwe was plunged into political and economic chaos when the government began seizing white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans in 2000 in an often violent campaign to redress colonial-era imbalances.