HARARE, Zimbabwe – The party of Zimbabwe's authoritarian president on Wednesday blamed their opponents' supporters for a recent spate of politically motivated violence.
Scores of families were displaced from their homes near the capital of Harare when violence surged in January.
The nation's sole broadcaster, which is controlled by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe, on Wednesday cited top Mugabe officials who denied their supporters started any violence. They said supporters of the former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, are to blame.
Police cited nine alleged cases of violence by Tsvangirai's party since Jan. 6.
But witnesses have reported that Mugabe loyalists in party regalia chanted party slogans and led looting of a flea market and other recent clashes.
In an intense campaign dominating radio and television reports Wednesday, ZANU-PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo, the fourth-ranked official in Mugabe's party, told the broadcaster that rivals in the nation's two-year power-sharing coalition aimed to create chaos ahead of a European Union summit that will discuss economic sanctions and Western policies toward Zimbabwe.
He said some European leaders favored easing travel and financial bans affecting Zimbabwe.
Britain, the former colonial power, the United States and the EU imposed those bans targeting Mugabe and his elite to protest abuse of human and democratic rights in a decade of political and economic turmoil.
The broadcaster said Khaya Moyo met with U.S. embassy officials on Tuesday to demand the lifting of Western sanctions.
Western nations argue not enough has been done by Mugabe's party in the coalition to honor its pledges to restore law and order, free up the media and guarantee democratic reforms and free expression.
Tsvangirai's party has condemned the state broadcaster for "hate speech" and distortion of events.
The state media said police agreed to a demonstration on Monday by Mugabe loyalists. The protesters opposed a recent decision by the Tsvangirai-led city council to award a car-parking contract in downtown Harare to a South African firm that protesters said broke local laws that require all businesses to be majority black-owned.
The state broadcaster reported the protest was "hijacked" by unruly mobs and Tsvangirai supporters who stormed a flea market and looted stalls.
State television showed two stall holders who said they were Mugabe party members who were victims of the looting.
Other witnesses told independent reporters that shops owned by Nigerian and Congolese nationals were ransacked by Mugabe's militants.
The state broadcaster reported that some 700 people took part in the flea market attack, and eight were arrested.
Tvangirai's party said in a statement about 100 of its supporters took refuge in a church western Harare Monday to flee violence in the city and its townships. Police later raided the church and took away some of the fugitives for questioning on their role in the violence.
Human rights groups say political violence and intimidation has surged as the government prepares for national elections later this year, though no date has been set.
Mugabe has described elections as the only way to bring haggling in the shaky coalition to an end and return a decisive administration. The coalition was formed after disputed elections in 2008 that were plagued by state-orchestrated violence by Mugabe loyalists.