In addition to claims of orchestrating violence, Mugabe has in recent weeks been accused of using food as a political weapon.
The government earlier this month ordered independent aid agencies to stop work. Mugabe has accused foreign aid agencies of working with the opposition to topple him. The crackdown has made millions of hungry Zimbabweans even more dependent on his government, just as they are deciding whether to keep him in power.
James McGee, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, said the clampdown has left some surviving on less than one meal a day.
“The situation right now is bad and it’s continuing to get worse,” McGee told reporters. “If this continues much beyond the elections, it will be disastrous for Zimbabwe.”
Aid group World Vision, which has projects across the country, appealed to the government Friday to allow delivery of basic humanitarian assistance by reversing the suspension, which it said was keeping more than 30 local and international groups from delivering food and other aid. It said up to 4 million people are in need of aid.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s head of government since 1980, was lauded early in his rule for campaigning for racial reconciliation and building the economy. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining the economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.
The decline of what was once the region’s breadbasket has been blamed on the collapse of the key agriculture sector after often-violent seizures of farmland from whites.
Mugabe claimed he ordered the seizures, begun in 2002, to benefit poor blacks. But many of the farms went instead to his loyalists.
Mugabe, addressing members of his party’s youth wing last Friday, said veterans of the country’s war against white rule will fight again if the opposition wins June 27.
He said veterans had approached him just after the March 29 first round of elections, threatening to go back to the bush to fight if Tsvangirai was allowed to win.
“I’m even prepared to join the fight,” said Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.
“We can’t allow the British to dominate us through their puppets,” said Mugabe, returning to a campaign theme that Tsvangirai is a pawn of Western powers — charges the opposition denies.
In its report, Human Rights Watch said it had documented 36 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries at the hands of Mugabe party militants backed by the police and army, but that the real figures may be much higher. More »
Movement for Democratic Change Party head Morgan Tsvangirai has survived three assassination attempts, including one in 1997 by unidentified assailants who tried to throw him from a 10th floor office window. More »
After first stopping to visit hospitalized supporters who had been targeted in an onslaught of state-sponsored violence, Tsvangirai called on the increasingly autocratic Mugabe to "set his people free from poverty, hunger and fear" by stepping down. More »