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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Zimbabweans pray under heavy police guard
    April 14, 2007

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    Harare - Zimbabwe police allowed an opposition prayer meeting to take place on Saturday in the second city of Bulawayo despite earlier threats to stop the gathering as an illegal anti-government protest.

    President Robert Mugabe's government has in the last two months used riot police to break up opposition rallies.

    Main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of other members of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sustained serious injuries on March 11 after being arrested by police at an aborted prayer rally in the capital Harare.

    In Bulawayo, journalists said police officers, in uniform and in plain clothes, watched opposition figures, labour and student leaders, rights activists and clerics filing in and out of a township church for the protest prayer meeting.

    "They did not stop the meeting but they watched from some distance, from a police station near the church," one journalist told Reuters by telephone from Bulawayo, southwest of Zimbabwe.

    On Friday the government said it might stop the gathering because it could be turned into an illegal opposition protest.

    Organisers of the vigil, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, said in a statement on Saturday they were determined to defy any attempt to stop the prayer meeting despite fears of a police crackdown.

    "The leadership of the campaign once again reiterates its commitment to the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis in total defiance of the brutality being perpetrated by the state security agents," it said. "We deplore the use of violence by those that are in power."

    Tsvangirai, who is nursing wounds sustained in police custody, did not go to Bulawayo but some of his MDC deputies went to the meeting which was co-organised by Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, one of Mugabe's most vehement critics.

    The influential Zimbabwe's Catholic Bishops' Conference last week joined Ncube -- who has largely been a lone voice from the Catholic leadership to tackle the government publicly -- in accusing Mugabe and his officials of running a corrupt government and abusing the political rights of Zimbabweans.

    Mugabe and his officials have not responded publicly to the criticism by the Catholic Church, which some analysts believe could have a greater influence in persuading him to discuss political reform than attacks from elsewhere.

    Mugabe, a practising Catholic, has traditionally taken a hands-off approach to critics within the Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in Zimbabwe.

    The 83-year-old Mugabe accuses Zimbabwe's former colonial power Britain of leading a Western campaign to oust his government as punishment for seizing and redistributing white-owned commercial farms to landless blacks. London denies there is such a plot, and the MDC says it is not a puppet party.

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