Members of the National Constitutional Assembly tried to stage demonstrations in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare today, but were overwhelmed and outmaneuvered by state security forces, which seemed suspiciously well-informed on their plans.
The protest effort was further derailed when four of the civic group's members were abducted by alleged ruling party youth militants, a top NCA official said.
Correspondent Fazila Mahomed filed a report on the attempted demonstration aimed at increasing pressure on the government of President Robert Mugabe for democratic reforms including a constitutional overhaul, as well as broad economic changes.
In the eastern city of Mutare, police arrested some 178 NCA demonstrators, sources there said. Lawyer Trust Maanda, representing those detained, said some of those detained paid admission-of-guilt fines to secure their release from police cells.
But no arrests were reported in Bulawayo, where NCA activists collaborated with a local group called Ibetshu Likazulu, Ndebele for “the shield of the nation,” in a demonstration that took place without incident.
NCA Chairman Ray Muzenda for the province of Masvingo, said around 380 people turned out for a demonstration in the provincial capital city of Masvingo. Muzenda said three NCA members were arrested after a scuffle with the police, who were attempting to disperse the demonstrators using teargas and batons.
In Gweru, Midlands, local NCA youth chairman Alois Dzvairo said about 300 people gathered before being dispersed by police; 10 activists were arrested.
In Kadoma, Mashonaland West, protests flopped as numerous police intimidated the would-be protesters, according to NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku.
But Madhuku told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his group will step up efforts to force change on the Mugabe administration.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...