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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Zimbabwe vigil ends peacefully
    Angus Shaw, Associated Press
    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 guns."

    A pro-democracy 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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