ZIMBABWE The hand of Lucifer 15th June 2001 Three sudden deaths transform the political scene and President Mugabe's election campaign To lose one lieutenant may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness, to lose three could spark a political crisis. Whether or not President Robert Mugabe is the target of a plot by party rivals, he has been shaken by the deaths of party political commissar Border Gezi on 28 April, of Defence Minister Moven Mahachi on 26 May, and of the 'war veterans' leader Chenjerai 'Hitler' Hunzvi on 4 June. Mugabe's heir apparent and parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa, not known to like any of the deceased, suggested unearthly forces: 'We don't know what is hitting us. It's not natural. We fear the hand of Lucifer is at work.' John Makumbe of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has a more naturalist interpretation but reckons that the deaths will derail Mugabe's campaign for next year's presidential election. More disruptive still for Mugabe will be the 74 per cent rise in petrol prices announced on 13 June. The rise will stoke inflation across the economy and worsen conditions in the towns where public transport is nearing collapse. But Finance Minister Simba Makoni had little choice with the Zimbabwean dollar under heavy pressure after last year's devaluation and the government struggling to meet foreign obligations with arrears to suppliers in South Africa mounting fast. The fuel price hike raises the prospect of street protests against the government and trades union action - a public show of strength that will further damage the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. It could easily turn into a bloody trial of strength between ZANU-PF's war veterans (although many will be hit by the price increase) and opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters.