Zim opposition leader arrested

Zimbabwe riot police arrested the country’s top opposition leader on Sunday as they suppressed a planned prayer rally in a crackdown on protests against President Robert Mugabe.

Witnesses said heavily armed police fought skirmishes with rock-throwing opposition supporters in the Harare township of Highfield, where the opposition-aligned Save Zimbabwe Coalition had called for a Sunday prayer rally.

Police arrested Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition officials after blocking their motor convoy from driving to the stadium where the rally was to have been held.

”Mr Tsvangirai has also been arrested. He was arrested as he was driving out of Highfield,” MDC information officer Luke Tamborinyoka told Reuters. ”We don’t know where he is being held at the moment.”

Officials had earlier said that Arthur Mutambara, who leads another faction of the MDC, and Lovemore Madhuku of the pressure group National Constitutional Assembly were also detained.

Riot police moved in force early on Sunday to head off the prayer rally, which police had said would violate a ban on political protests imposed after opposition supporters clashed with police in Highfield last month.

Organisers had argued that the ban should not apply to a prayer vigil.

Tear gas

Shop owners in the area shuttered stores, while hundreds of people wandered the streets under the gaze of police units.

Witnesses said later in the day police had fired tear gas at youths who were throwing stones at their patrols, taunting them and defying orders not move around in large numbers.

”There have been several skirmishes between the police and some youths, people throwing stones, and the police firing tear gas,” a Zimbabwean journalist, who lives in Highfield, told a Reuters correspondent by phone.

Riot police mounted road blocks on major highways into the township, and were searching vehicles for arms and questioning motorists where they were going.

Police on Saturday accused some elements in the MDC of hiring and arming ”thugs” to attack officers.

”As far as we are concerned that is a political rally … and we are going to stop that meeting,” national police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena told a news conference. Bvudzijena said he had no immediate information on the arrests.

Officials have tightened the screws on the opposition after violence broke out last month when riot police broke up an MDC rally despite a court order directing that it should be allowed.

State media said officials feared the rally was intended to launch street protests against Mugabe’s government.

Zimbabwe has seen political tensions build as it sinks deeper into its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation now above 1 700%, unemployment of close to 80% and regular shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange.

Mugabe (83), in power since independence in 1980, dismisses the MDC as a puppet of Zimbabwe’s former colonial master Britain which opposes him for seizing white-owned commercial farms to give to blacks. — Reuters

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