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01 Jun 2003 11:39
The streets of the Zimbabwe capital Harare were calm on Monday as Zimbabweans braced themselves for a showdown between the government and the opposition over mass street demonstrations.
There was a strong army and police presence and riot police manned road blocks on roads leading into the city centre. State radio said police were escorting passenger buses into town.
Police have warned that anyone taking part in the protest called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will “face the full wrath of the law”.
In the north of the capital, school children were seen making their way to attend classes.
Some schools were reported to have planned to close over the next five days.
Fear of violence was running high after the opposition said it would press on with the protest, despite a court order obtained by the police banning it.
A front page editorial in the state-run Herald newspaper called for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to be placed “in protective custody”.
Tsvangirai has urged Zimbabweans to “rise up in your millions” defying strict new security laws under which demonstrations have to be given police clearance.
But the government has reacted angrily, saying the opposition is planning a coup d’etat aimed at forcing Mugabe out of office.
Security forces have been placed on high alert and several cabinet ministers and the Zimbabwean army have threatened to forcefully crush any outbreak of violence.
Veterans of the country’s war against white minority rule have said they will not stand by and watch MDC supporters march on State House, where Mugabe lives.
Such an action would lead to “casualties”, warned war veterans leader Patrick Nyaruwata on Friday.
Tsvangirai has assured the government the marches will be peaceful, but Mugabe’s government says opposition mass action is always laced with “banditry and terrorism.”
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted in Saturday’s state-run Herald newspaper saying the MDC “speak peace when they actually plan to wage war”.
Police had on Saturday already set up roadblocks on major routes leading into the city centre, while hundreds of people queued outside banks in central Harare to withdraw cash.
There has been frenzied buying in shops this week ahead of the strike, due to last from Monday to Friday.
Hundreds of MDC supporters were arrested or assaulted by the police after that stoppage, the opposition and human rights organisations have claimed.
handed out in March.
Fifty-one year-old Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, has rejected Mugabe’s victory in last year’s presidential elections. He wants a re-run of the poll, and has gone to court to petition the result. It is not clear if ordinary Zimbabweans will be discouraged from taking part in the latest showdown because of the treatment
The opposition leader and his party have dubbed next week’s mass action the “final push” for freedom.
Tsvangirai is due to appear in court on Monday as part of his ongoing treason trial, but may try to lead the action ahead of his court appearance.
The MDC blames Mugabe’s government for the intense economic hardships gripping the country.
Inflation stands at more than 269%, and Zimbabwe is experiencing chronic shortages of food, fuel, bank notes and electricity, while hospitals are desperately short of drugs, staff and emergency blood supplies.
Tsvangirai has been holding rallies across the country in the past few weeks to drum up support for anti-government protests.
More rallies are planned for this weekend.
“There’s no riskier business than to allow this country to collapse,” he told reporters on Friday. - Sapa-AFP
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