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  • Mugabe cracks whip to warn opponents
    February 22, 2007

    HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s government has intensified a crackdown against the opposition, arresting some of its leaders and banning street protests, in a move political analysts said was meant to warn opponents on the futility of challenging the veteran leader. 

    Police have arrested 40 people over the past few days following weekend clashes with opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters who tried to march last Friday and following riotous scenes in Harare’s working class suburb of Highfield on Sunday when armed police stopped a High Court sanctioned rally. 

    Some of those arrested included MDC secretary general Tendai Biti and Glen View legislator Paul Madzore, who were later released on bail by a Harare Magistrates court after being charged with public violence. 

    The police have been in a combative mood since then and on Wednesday announced a ban on political rallies and protests in Harare's volatile townships, a move analysts said was meant to reinforce Mugabe’s view that the government was still in control. 

    “This is a warning to all those who dare to challenge the regime,” said John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer and a strong Mugabe critic. 

    “The government is marshalling all its forces to say ‘if you want a fight we are ready’. Make no mistake, the government will not let the opposition hold a rally or protest because there is fear – presumably rightly so - that it can explode and sweep Mugabe from power,” he added. 

    Human rights lawyer and the coordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC), Jacob Mafume, said the government clampdown on dissension was meant to dissuade ordinary citizens from a popular revolt that he said looked imminent. 

    Mafume, whose CZC campaigns for democratic change in Zimbabwe, said: “These strong arm tactics are synonymous with a state of emergency. The idea is to dissuade people from a popular uprising which looks imminent.” 

    Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African country as a steep economic crisis takes its toll on a population grappling with inflation of nearly 1 600 percent, the highest in the world and surging unemployment and poverty. 

    The tensions have worsened following proposals by Mugabe’s ZANU PF to extend his rule under an election harmonisation plan, which will see presidential elections scheduled next year coinciding with parliamentary polls in 2010. 

    The opposition and civil groups have condemned the move, saying Zimbabwe cannot afford to have Mugabe in charge for an additional two years. They have threatened to roll out mass protests to block the plan. 

    Some opposition officials said the weekend clashes signalled the start of the protests. 

    MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday Mugabe and ZANU PF were at their weakest and now resorted to militia tactics to keep a tight lid on unrest, but warned that the opposition’s anti-government struggle was gaining momentum. 

    MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa on Wednesday vowed that the opposition party would resist the police ban on political meetings and protests, saying the police action was akin to imposing “a state of emergency.” 

    “We are going to defy that ban,” said Chamisa. “We are going to continue with the people's project of emancipation. The streets shall bring freedom. It's now confrontation. We have lined up a series of demonstrations and we shall not relent." 

    But analysts warned that Mugabe, who turned 83 years yesterday and a master of political intrigue would continue to rely on security forces to crush protests, which he sees as part of a wider strategy sponsored by Western governments and meant to remove him from power. 

    Mugabe, one of Africa’s few remaining big men rulers, has kept opponents at bay through tough policing, vote rigging, and an elaborate political patronage system, which rewards loyal supporters while imposing severe punishment on rivals. 

    The analysts said the veteran leader - who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 – had ordered the crackdown to once again set an example to would-be protesters that the government would not sit by and allow itself to be swept from power through a popular wave of protests. 

    Makumbe said: “There is no doubt as to the extent to which this regime will go to remain in power, it will defend itself fiercely and brutally too. I see Mugabe taking advantage of this crackdown to abuse people’s rights in the name of defending national security.” – ZimOnline


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