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Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign
Zim police bar opposition prayer rally
Mail & Guardian (SA)
March 11, 2007
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riot police sealed off a stadium on Sunday to block an opposition
prayer meeting that officials have banned, calling it a political
protest against President Robert Mugabe.
Teams of police officers,
many of them armed with shotguns and tear-gas canisters, patrolled
around the stadium in the Harare township of Highfield, where riot
police clashed with opposition supporters last month.
Organisers of the prayer
meeting, sponsored by a coalition of opposition, church and civic
groups, had said they plan to go ahead with the rally despite police
warnings on Saturday that it would not be permitted.
But police blocked a
convoy of organisers, including opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, from driving into Highfield
and they left the area without speaking to reporters.
Shop owners in the area
shuttered their stores and some employed private security guards,
while hundreds of people wandered the streets under the gaze of
Police spokesperson Wayne
Bvudzijena on Saturday accused some elements in the MDC of hiring
and arming "thugs" to attack police, and warned that security
forces would be "fully deployed" to prevent the prayer
"As far as we are
concerned that is a political rally ... and we are going to stop
that meeting," he told a news conference, adding that "genuine
Christians" would obey the law and skip the prayer meeting.
Officials imposed a three-month
ban on political protests and rallies after last month's violence,
which saw riot police use water cannon and tear gas to break up
an MDC rally that state media said was intended to launch street
protests against Mugabe's government.
The country is in the
grip of its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation now
above 1 700%, unemployment of close to 80% and regular shortages
of food, fuel and foreign exchange.
The MDC says it has been
a victim of a "dirty tricks" campaign by the government
in which its officials are accused of violent crimes committed by
ruling party youth brigades.
Mugabe (83), in power
since independence in 1980, dismisses the MDC as a puppet of Zimbabwe's
former colonial master Britain, which opposes him for seizing white-owned
commercial farms to give to blacks.
Political tensions have
increased in recent months following moves by Mugabe to extend his
tenure by two additional years to 2010, a proposal that political
analysts say has caused divisions even within his ruling Zanu-PF
to foreign reporters in Johannesburg on Friday, said the MDC intended
to push for presidential elections as originally scheduled for 2008,
calling Mugabe's proposal both illegal and unconstitutional. -
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