Police Free Nearly 200 Zimbabwe Opposition Supporters

Police on Tuesday released nearly 200 people who were arrested last week in a raid on opposition headquarters, while President Bush called on Zimbabwe's neighbors to step up the pressure on longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

Many of the 215 people arrested on Friday had fled to Harare to escape mounting violence and intimidation in rural areas that used to be ruling party strongholds but turned against Mugabe in the March 29 elections.

Twenty-nine people, mainly women and children, were released almost immediately. The rest were freed from various police stations in the capital Tuesday in accordance with a High Court order issued Monday, opposition defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said.

One month after the vote, results from the presidential election still have not been released.

Independent observers say that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe, but did not secure an outright majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai insists he did, while Mugabe has stayed silent.

Bush said at a news conference Tuesday that "it's really incumbent on the nations in the neighborhood to step up and lead." He stopped short of saying that Mugabe had lost the election, but added that it was clear that the country had voted for change.

On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission concluded the recount of 23 disputed parliamentary seats, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. The commission would thereafter "invite presidential candidates or their election agents for the verification and collation of the results," the Herald said Tuesday.

State radio reported that the verification process would take at least three more days.

Despite fears of vote-rigging during the parliamentary recount, the published results confirmed that the opposition held a majority of seats for the first time in Zimbabwe's history.

On Monday, Tsvangirai addressed a joint news conference with Arthur Mutambara, the head of a breakaway faction, to say they had healed their divisions and were now united against Mugabe.

"Old man, go and have an honorable exit," Tsvangirai said in a message to the 84-year-old autocrat who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

"In a parliamentary democracy, the majority rule," Tsvangirai said alongside Mutambara at the news conference. "He should concede that ... he cannot be president."

The opposition leaders also appealed to the U.N. Security Council to send a special envoy to Zimbabwe and to warn Mugabe that the mounting violence against opposition supporters was tantamount to "crimes against humanity."

Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, was in New York for the Security Council meeting, although he was not expected to address the Tuesday session, a closed-door briefing.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, the current Security Council president, played down the briefing, reflecting President Thabo Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy toward its troublesome neighbor.

"We don't expect anything to come out of it," Kumalo said. However, African nations and members of Mbeki's own party are increasingly outspoken at the long delay in releasing the results and the upsurge in violence.

Human Rights Watch said the ruling party, police and army have "sharply intensified a brutal campaign of organized terror and torture against perceived opposition supporters that threatens the general population."

But the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, accused the opposition of fomenting violence. It said that some Tsvangirai supporters "attacked soldiers and the general public" in Manicaland province. It said one person had been killed and two injured.

It said police suspected that perpetrators of the violence were being given refuge at opposition headquarters.