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Only The Beginning

Two days ago, news organizations everywhere were reporting that Robert Mugabe was planning on stepping down from office. In an authoritarian country where there is no free press, rumors like this spread fast, especially when people are worn down after 28 years of one-party, iron-fisted rule. Any small indication of positive change can easily blow up into a major development. Perhaps Mugabe would fly off to Malaysia or Namibia, or even arrange some sort of deal where he could reside for the rest of his life in the mansion he constructed for himself in a tony Harare suburb. Given Mugabe's history, I found these predictions wildly speculative and unfounded, as much as I wanted to believe them. Now, it appears that skepticism was more than warranted.

The latest wire reports indicate that Zimbabwean police have surrounded a Harare hotel used by the opposition MDC party, as well as another hotel used by foreign correspondents. The New York Times southern Africa correspondent, Barry Bearak, has been taken into custody; it's safe to assume that others have as well. It is essentially illegal for foreign journalists to report from Zimbabwe and Bearak had decided to withold his byline over the past few weeks because of the obvious threat to his safety. He later changed his mind. "As more Western journalists used their bylines and as the story grew more prominent, Barry felt it was time to use his byline, which appeared in the latest editions of the newspaper," a Times spokeswoman said.  

Robert Mugabe has starved, imprisoned and killed far too many people to leave office in the dignified manner that people were wildly speculating he would just two days ago. Today, one of his cronies said that ''President Mugabe is going to fight. He is not going anywhere. He has not lost. We are going to go hard and fight and get the majority required.'' Of course, "get[ting] the majority required" is something that a party does before an election takes place, not while the ballots are still being counted.

--James Kirchick