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Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Flees To Dutch Embassy

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's opposition leader took refuge in the Dutch Embassy after pulling out of the presidential runoff, and the U.N. Security Council condemned a "campaign of violence" in the African nation that has made a fair election impossible.

After Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the vote _ reportedly fearing for his safety _ police raided his Harare headquarters and hustled away dozens of his supporters.

In a unanimous statement, the 15-nation council said it "condemns the campaign of violence against the political opposition." Recent bloodshed widely blamed on supporters of President Robert Mugabe has killed dozens of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans.

In their first first formal action on Zimbabwe's latest crisis, council members also agreed that the violence and restrictions on opposition activists imposed by Mugabe "have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place" on Friday.

The U.S. and France failed in an effort to include language asserting that Tsvangirai, who won the most votes in the first presidential round, should be considered the legitimate president until a fair election can be held.

Mugabe's government insisted Friday's vote would go ahead _ with Tsvangirai's name on the ballot. The intent appeared to be to humiliate the opposition.

Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe a month ago to campaign, despite warnings by his Movement for Democratic Change party that he was the target of a state-sponsored assassination plot.

Since then, his top deputy has been arrested on treason charges _ which carry the death penalty _ and Tsvangirai has repeatedly been detained by police. His supporters have faced such violence that the opposition leader said Sunday he could not run.

Dutch officials said Monday that Tsvangirai sought shelter in their embassy in Harare following his announcement Sunday that he was withdrawing from the runoff, but said he did not ask for political asylum.

Tsvangirai "asked if the Dutch Embassy could provide him with refuge because he was feeling unsafe," Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The prospect of such an election drew strong criticism from the international community. But Zimbabwe's increasingly autocratic ruler showed little concern for the world's opinion _ his police entered opposition headquarters Monday even as foreign election observers watched.

Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa said most of those taken away were women and children seeking refuge after fleeing state-sponsored political violence. He said police also seized computers and furniture.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said 39 people were taken into custody as part of an investigation into political violence. He said they were taken to what he called a "rehabilitation center" for interviews.

Even before Tsvangirai's actions, some African leaders had begun to offer uncharacteristic criticism of Mugabe, an 84-year-old liberation hero whose defiant anti-Western rhetoric long resonated in a region with a bitter colonial past. Tsvangirai's decision to pull out may have been aimed at forcing his African neighbors to take a strong stand.

Condemnation of Mugabe poured in from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

"In forsaking the most basic tenet of governance, the protection of its people, the government of Zimbabwe must be held accountable by the international community," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

"The current government, with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation, is a regime that should not be recognized by anyone," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said because of the violence, a runoff now ""would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible."

Most of the council's negotiations were conducted privately. Members met openly for less than a half-hour to get an update on what is happening in Zimbabwe from U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.

He said ample evidence shows Mugabe's government is waging a "widespread campaign of retaliation and threat" and spreading "fear, hostility and attacks" against its opponents.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, this month's council president, read aloud the council's presidential statement on Zimbabwe. Though non-binding, it serves as a warning to Mugabe that he runs the risk of incurring a more serious, binding council resolution if he does proceed with the election.

Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but did not gain an outright majority against Mugabe. That campaign was generally peaceful, but the runoff has been overshadowed by violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas.

Independent human rights groups say 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

In Harare, David Coltart, a prominent opposition party member, said that not only had Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy, but other top leaders had also gone underground.

Militant groups roamed the capital Monday and cars and buses displayed Mugabe posters and fliers. One motorist said he hung a Mugabe party bandanna on his car mirror in hopes it would protect him from attacks.

Roy Bennett, treasurer of Tsvangirai's party, speaking to The Associated Press in Johannesburg, called on the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to launch negotiations aimed at bringing members of the opposition and moderate members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party together in a transitional authority that would create conditions for free and fair presidential voting.

He said Mugabe would not be welcome on the transitional authority or in a future government.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between Mugabe and Tsvangirai for more than a year under Southern African Development Community auspices. Mbeki has refused to criticize Mugabe, saying confronting him could close the door to talks. But other African leaders have shown increasing unease, and South Africa was under pressure to speak out.


Associated Press writer John Heilprin reported from the United Nations. AP writers Art Max in Amsterdam and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.