HARARE (AP): Zimbabwean senior opposition official Tendai Biti was arrested while trying to cross into Zambia, a lawyer said Wednesday, as concerns rose over a government crackdown after last week’s disputed presidential election. The arrest, after scenes of the military opening fire in the streets of the capital and growing opposition claims of harassment, further challenges the Zimbabwe president’s assertions of a “flowering” of democracy in the months after longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down under military pressure.
Lawyer Nqobizitha Mlilo said more details on Biti’s arrest would be released later. There was no immediate comment from police. Biti, who was finance minister in an uneasy coalition government from 2009 to 2013, is a leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, which has denounced the election win of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as fraudulent and vowed to challenge it in court this week.
Last week Biti declared, before official election results were announced early Friday, that opposition leader Nelson Chamisa had won, a claim also made by Chamisa himself. “In a normal country Chamisa would be sworn in right now,” Biti told reporters a day after the election. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it is illegal to announce results before its own official announcement. Mnangagwa was more restrained during the vote count, saying only that the situation looked positive. However, some reporting in state-run media declared him the winner before the official results were out.
The opposition has seven days from the announcement of the official election results to file a court challenge. Chamisa lawyer Thabani Mpofu told reporters on Wednesday they will file the challenge in time. That would push back an inauguration that Mnangagwa’s administration already had planned for Sunday. Biti was named along with Chamisa in a search warrant issued last week that said they and several others were suspected of the crimes of “possession of dangerous weapons” and “subversive material” as well as “public violence,” according to a copy of the warrant seen by The Associated Press.