African Press International (API)

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Firing on the protesters in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe

Posted by African Press International on January 27, 2008

Police in Zimbabwe recently fired tear gas at hundreds of opposition protesters on the streets of the capital, Harare, after a court banned a protest march.

A court earlier had upheld a police ban on an opposition demonstration to press President Robert Mugabe to adopt a new constitution ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March.
The court ruled they could hold a rally in a stadium, after police had said street protests could turn violent. The judge ruled that the opposition stadium rally could go ahead but agreed with police warnings that the march would present a threat to public security.

Agency reports said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was detained for five hours then released ahead of the planned demonstrations. He later accused the authorities of treating him like a “common criminal”.
Tsvangirai, who was arrested at his home in Harare early yesterday morning, addressed supporters at the rally site, Glamis Stadium, in the west of the capital. He told a crowd: “If this is the reaction of this dictatorship, then the elections are a farce.”

After the court ruling, several hundred opposition protesters had begun walking to the stadium from the MDC headquarters in central Harare. But police told the demonstrators, who were chanting and waving placards, they were breaking the court order, before firing tear gas and charging. A spokesman for the MDC said people trying to reach the stadium had been intimidated by heavy police presence.
State radio on Tuesday, said police suspected “sinister motives” behind the march.

The opposition warned this month it would boycott the polls if it was not satisfied with preparations to ensure they would be free and fair. Mugabe has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say he has used tough security laws to keep his opponents in check. Mugabe denies the charge. About two dozens police in a truck have deployed in front of MDC headquarters and were keeping an eye on the building. Tsvangirai was last arrested in March last year along with dozens of opposition officials ahead of another planned march. He says police beat him up in custody but they deny this.

The police had initially granted permission for Wednesday’s march, which the MDC also called to protest against a crumbling economy blamed on government mismanagement as well as to press for a new constitution. Zimbabweans have tended to shy away from demonstrations in recent years, mainly from fear of a heavy-handed response by security forces and were on Wednesday busy queuing for cash at banks while many went about their normal business.

With joint parliamentary and presidential elections due to be held in March, the government recently watered down its strict laws on the holding of protests and any ban should be open to appeal.
The former British colony, led by the 83-year-old Mugabe since independence in 1980, is in economic meltdown. The official annual rate of inflation is put at 8,000 per cent, but economists believe it to be nearer 50,000 per cent.

Unemployment is running at around 80 per cent while basic foodstuffs such as cooking oil and sugar are now a scarce commodity in the one-time regional breadbasket. Mugabe came in for widespread international criticism in March last year after Tsvangirai and dozens of MDC supporters were assaulted as they tried to attend another anti-government rally in Harare. The president responded by telling his critics to “go hang”


Lifted and published by Korir, API source.TheGuardian.Nigeria

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