Zimbabwe opposition defies police ban on demonstrations

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Civic groups defied police bans Tuesday and staged protests demanding political reform -- the biggest show of opposition to President Robert Mugabe since he claimed a disputed victory in last month's elections.

About 1,000 supporters of the National Constitutional Assembly, a pressure group linked to unions, churches, human rights lobbyists and the main opposition party, managed to evade a tight cordon of police roadblocks to demonstrate in the capital.

Pursued by paramilitary police wielding clubs and firing tear gas, they ran through downtown Harare chanting: "Down with Mugabe."

Public protests lasting up to two hours were also staged in the towns of Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo before they were broken up by riot police with tear gas, said Douglas Mzonzora, a spokes-man for the pressure group.

There were no immediate reports of arrests or injuries Tuesday. On Monday, police arrested three assembly leaders in a bid to prevent the protests from going ahead.

"It is disturbing that this government deploys riot police to deal with peaceful protesters while violent and armed (ruling party) gangs are allowed to cause mayhem with police assistance," the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said in a statement. "Every single effort toward peaceful change has been met with arrests, violence, abductions and murders."

Political violence that preceded the March 9-11 election has continued in Zimbabwe. Most Western governments found the election was deeply flawed, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has challenged the outcome in court. He has described Mugabe's victory as "daylight robbery."

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