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Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign
vigil ends peacefully
April 14, 2007
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Harare - Opposition
speakers withdrew under police orders Saturday from a pro-democracy
prayer meeting, which ended without the violence that halted a previous
gathering, organizers said. The Save Zimbabwe Campaign, an alliance
of Christian and pro-democracy groups, said key opposition figures
showed "solidarity" by attending the vigil without addressing
the congregation in the western provincial capital of Bulawayo.
One of the proposed speakers was Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the
main faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who
was hospitalized in March after being arrested and beaten on his
way to a similar meeting. Also on the list were leading activists
from Zimbabwe, and church officials from neighboring Malawi, Zambia
and South Africa. Police had insisted the prayer meeting was an
illegal political rally and said they would allow only clerics and
Christian speakers, said Useni Sibanda, one of the organizers.
Sibanda said organizers
and their lawyers had met with police to reach a compromise over
the speakers. Usually, "anyone who prays can participate in
our services," he said. Three water cannons were deployed
nearby, but armed police kept their distance and did not intervene
when youths chanted political slogans. Bulawayo's Roman Catholic
Archbishop Pius Ncube, an outspoken critic of the government, spoke
to the gathering of about 400 worshippers in the grounds of St.
Patrick's church. He focused mainly on deepening economic hardships
blamed on corruption and the policies of President Robert Mugabe.
In the past, Ncube has urged demonstrators to take to the streets
even if it meant standing up to the government's "blazing
prayer meeting in Harare on March 11 was violently crushed by police,
who sealed off the venue at a sports field and arrested activists
approaching it. Photos of opposition leaders beaten by police were
seen around the world, drawing renewed attention to Zimbabwe's political
and economic crisis. Mugabe was unrepentant, saying ``police have
a right to bash'' those seen as illegally protesting. State security
agents have been present at previous services held by democracy
and human rights campaigners and victims of alleged state-perpetrated
violence. No arrests have been reported inside churches, but Ncube
and followers have been questioned afterward. Church, civic and
opposition groups accuse Mugabe of sanctioning political violence
and failing to curb corruption or reform economic policies that
led to the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with
acute shortages of food, gasoline and basic goods and record inflation
estimated at around 2,200 percent, the highest in the world.
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