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With Protests Looming, Harare Bears Down on Labor, Student Leaders

Authorities in Harare have placed senior officials of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions under intense surveillance ahead of protests the labor organization has called for on Wednesday across the nation to protest plummeting living standards.

Police have warned the ZCTU against holding demonstrations without permission. The trade union said it had notified authorities of plans, but received no response.

Chief Police Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka of the Zimbabwe Republic Police said authorities would not tolerate illegal activities. President Robert Mugabe has warned that security forces would deal harshly with those challenging his rule.

Meanwhile, a Zimbabwe intelligence source said that the country's Joint Operations Command coordinating activities of the police, the army, and the Central Intelligence Organization, is divided on how to respond to the September 13 protests.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the intelligence official said some authorities are worried that crushing demonstrations could result in bloodshed, bringing international intervention and encouraging Mugabe government opponents to mount a campaign of civil disobedience along lines seen in the Ukraine in 2004.

The ZCTU call for worker protests nationwide has been endorsed by the European Parliament, the International Confederation of Trade Unions and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

For more on government surveillance of union leaders and protest plans, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibhebhe, who said his union plans protests in 35 cities and towns.

While a number of civil society organizations have promised to join forces with the ZCTU, questions have arisen as to the intentions of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist himself.

MDC sources said the party does not want to openly join the protests, as this might give the government an excuse to crack down on the broad opposition.

The Independent newspaper of Harare quoted Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa as saying the MDC agenda is broader than the bread-and-butter issues the union is pressing with its call to Zimbabwean workers to voice economic grievances.

Reporter Patience Rusere sought clarification from Chamisa on the MDC stance.

Chibhebhe declined to comment on the participation or non-participation of the MDC. But other labor officials said keeping the MDC at arm's length from the demonstrations is a strategic necessity, because Harare has told the International Labor Organization it banned ZCTU protests in the past because the union mixes labor and politics.

Elsewhere, police arrested eight officials of the Zimbabwe National Students Union in Harare where they were planning participation in the ZCTU demonstrations. Zinasu President Promise Mkwananzi said police raided the Harare hotel where the student leaders had gathered for a strategy and planning meeting.

An undetermined number of student union officers were rounded up in Bulawayo.

Those arrested in Harare included Zinasu Secretary General Beloved Chiweshe. Also taken into custody in the capital were committee members Milward Makwenjere, Terence Chimavi, George Makoni, Farayi Magaza, Lawrence Mashungo, Cleto Majava and Gideon Chitanga, said Mkwananzi.

Attorney Tafadzwa Mugabe of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, representing the students, said they are being charged with meeting to promote acts of violence.

Mkwananzi, absent from the hotel meeting when the arrests occurred, told Patience Rusere his organization is undaunted and will proceed to join in the protests.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...