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Zim opposition demands release of detained activists
Farisai Gonye, ZimOnline
May 19, 2007

HARARE - Zimbabwe's main opposition party on Friday launched a defiance campaign to force President Robert Mugabe's government to release more than 30 party activists who were arrested last March.

Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said the opposition will soon take to the streets to demand the release of its activists who have been languishing in remand prison in Harare over the past two months.

The government accuses the MDC activists of being behind a spate of petrol bomb attacks on police stations and other state institutions that took place in March.

The MDC has dismissed the charge saying it is a ruse to crack down and paralyse the opposition ahead of next year's elections.

The street marches could signal the start of a fresh round of confrontation between the government and the MDC after state security agents last March brutally put down opposition-led protests in Harare.

Biti said the MDC campaign, dubbed "Free Them Now", was also meant to ratchet up pressure on Mugabe to stop the crackdown on the opposition and civic groups that began last March.

The opposition party will also take the campaign to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as the African Union to demand that the arrested activists be immediately released.

"Our structures will have processions, marches, and several forms of protests to highlight our demands that these activists be released. We are prepared to pay with our lives for our freedom and the freedom of our detained comrades," said Biti.

He added: "We are also going to take the campaign to the African Commission where we are going to file applications for these cases to be heard. We will approach SADC, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, the African Union and the rest of the international community."

The MDC launched a trust fund headed by academic and former University of Zimbabwe Vice-Chancellor Gordon Chavhunduka to raise funds for the families of the jailed activists.

"The charges (against the MDC activists) are totally trumped up to ensure that (government) cripples and paralyses the MDC. Even if the SADC mediation process brings a positive outcome, the party is not in a physical condition to launch and sustain a political campaign," said Biti.

Biti was referring to efforts by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki who was last March appointed by the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate in the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, who is facing his biggest electoral challenge against the MDC next year, is forging ahead with a brutal campaign to neutralize the opposition and civic groups with state agents for example last week beating up lawyers who tried to march in Harare to protest against the detention of their colleagues. - ZimOnline

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