Da Mail & Guardian del 14/09/2006
Originale su http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=283991

Zim police thwart union protests

di Fanuel Jongwe

Harare, Zimbabwe - Opponents of veteran Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe abandoned plans on Wednesday for a series of anti-government protests after the organisers were arrested in a police crackdown.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had hoped thousands of protesters would take to the streets in nationwide rallies to denounce fuel and food shortages as well as unemployment now running at about 80%.

A major security operation, however, stopped the protests in their tracks, with ZCTU leaders arrested in downtown Harare at the starting point of the main demonstration.

ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo and secretary general Wellington Chibebe were among a group of 18 organisers detained in the capital, according to ZCTU spokesperson Mlamleni Sibanda, while union sources in the second city of Bulawayo said 20 senior ZCTU members were arrested there.

"We have called it off. We cannot go ahead because of the way the police have reacted," Sibanda said.

Asked if the movement planned to stage the protests at a later date, Sibanda replied: "I cannot say since most of the leaders are in police custody.

"The leadership has to reconvene and chart the way forward."

The protests had been seen as the first test of strength of the opposition to the Mugabe regime since a bitter split in the ranks of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last November.

Demonstrations by the ZCTU, formerly headed by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, threatened to bring Zimbabwe to its knees in the late 1990s as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets.

However, the opposition to the 82-year-old Mugabe has been unable to take advantage of the crisis, amid both bitter divisions within its ranks and fear of the reaction of the security services.

Armed police manned roadblocks from early morning while major highways were closed to traffic as part of the efforts by the authorities to prevent the unauthorised protest from taking place.

The area around the ZCTU headquarters, which would have been the main focus of the rally, was also sealed off by riot-squad officers.

The few protestors who did make it to the venue were soon dispersed by baton-wielding police while a number of passers-by also found themselves caught up in the violence, according to an Agence France-Presse correspondent.

While most stores remained open, the number of shoppers was noticeably down for a normal weekday and tension was palpable.

One resident, who refused to give his name, criticised the police for their action.

"These guys from the ZCTU are fighting for all of us. Why do the police react that way? Does it mean they are happy with the way they are living?" he said.

National police spokesperson Wayne Bzudzijena, however, said the security services' only concern was "to maintain peace and order".

With inflation running at about 1 000% and food in short supply, many ordinary Zimbabweans can ill afford to take a day off work.

"To many people, strikes are either too risky, judging from the way people have been beaten up for striking, or a waste of time since previous strikes have not yielded much," said George Kuriyati, a salesperson with a retail chain in Harare.

The ZCTU wants the government to raise minimum wages and salaries in line with the poverty threshold, as well as cut income tax and provide easy access to antiretroviral drugs for Aids sufferers.

It is also calling for an end to the arbitrary arrests and beatings of street hawkers and self-employed citizens.

Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe won independence 26 years ago, has repeatedly vowed to crush opposition rallies, warning that anyone planning protests against his government would be "playing with fire".

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