Tsvangirai detained ahead of protest rally

Police took away Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the middle of the night for questioning about a demonstration planned for later on Wednesday, his lawyer said.

“He was picked up by the police around 400am (2am GMT) on Wednesday but he has since been released,” said his lawyer Alec Muchadehama.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) planned the march to press veteran President Robert Mugabe for a new Constitution to guarantee parliamentary and presidential elections due in March are free and fair.

The MDC launched a legal challenge on Tuesday to a police ban on the march.

Muchadehama said earlier he believed that the police just wanted to intimidate the opposition leader.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti told Reuters that Tsvangirai was picked up from his home in a suburb of the capital Harare by plain-clothes officers.

“He was picked up at around 4am (2am GMT) in respect of the intended demonstration,” he said.

The lawyer said police also detained another MDC leader, Dennis Murira.

Mugabe has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say he has used tough security laws to keep his opponents in check. Mugabe denies the charge.

Tsvangirai was last arrested in March 2007 along with dozens of opposition officials ahead of another planned march. He says police beat him up in custody but they deny this.

The police had initially granted permission for this Wednesday’s march, which the MDC called to protest against a crumbling economy blamed on government mismanagement as well as to press for a new Constitution.

On Tuesday, lawyer Muchadehama said the Harare magistrate’s court would hear an application on Wednesday on overturning the ban, which police say was prompted by fears the demonstration would degenerate into violence and looting.

Witnesses said armed riot police had been deployed on Tuesday night in the volatile townships of Highfield and Budiriro and had set up road blocks on some roads leading into the city centre.

There were no signs of heavy police deployment in central Harare early on Wednesday morning but they were expected to be out in full force later on in a bid to thwart the planned demonstration.

Zimbabweans have tended to shy away from demonstrations in recent years, mainly from fear of a heavy-handed response by security forces.
- Reuters

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