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26 May 2003 10:22
Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Sunday told his supporters to prepare themselves with prayers ahead of “democracy marches” due to begin in just over a week.
Addressing thousands of supporters at a rally in Highfield, the home suburb of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai said there would be “a week of democracy and democracy marches” beginning June 2.
Many here had been waiting for Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to name a date for the next stage of protest “mass action” against the government.
Two strikes held in the last two months have been widely followed here amid growing economic hardships. But war veterans loyal to Mugabe have threatened to clamp down on any mass action, according to reports in the state-run Herald earlier this week.
As supporters cheered in the afternoon sun, Tsvangirai said on Sunday he was not afraid.
“We must be prepared to be arrested.
We must be prepared to make a mark.”
“I’m ready if they want to arrest me,” he added.
Private prayer was needed this week ahead of the demonstrations, the opposition leader said.
“It is preparation,” Tsvangirai said, speaking in the Shona.
Sunday was billed as a National Day of Prayer in Zimbabwe. He told his supporters they would have to be disciplined. The government has accused the MDC of being a “violent” party after buses were petrol-bombed during an opposition-led strike in March.
“If I say march, you should march,” Tsvangirai said. He also said ruling party officials wanted to know what was going to happen to them if the opposition party came into power.
“There are some Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) people coming to me and saying ‘What are you going to do with us if you come into power’,” Tsvangirai said.
He said some Zanu-PF members had approached him telling him to “do something”. He did not elaborate further.
Meanwhile the party claimed in a statement that police “besieged” the MDC headquarters in central Harare shortly after the rally.
“The police are after women who they chased as they returned from a successful rally addressed by the MDC President and several senior party officials at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield,” the party’s Information Department said in a statement.
“It appears the police will not move away until the women come out,” it added.
The party also claimed that 12 MDC supporters were arrested after an opposition rally in Chitungwiza, Harare’s satellite town on Saturday and were still in custody on Sunday.
There is growing unrest in Zimbabwe, amid shortages of food, fuel and banknotes. Inflation has now reached 269% and is likely to rise still further.
In Harare this weekend, there were long queues waiting at bank machines amid fears of more strikes and reports banks were limiting cash withdrawals.
Banks and clients were left struggling for cash after the last stayaway.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which organised a three-day stayaway last month, urged Zimbabweans to “store a bucket of mealie-meal (Zimbabwe’s staple food) and save a penny” ahead of planned mass action. - Sapa-AFP
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