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Harare Accuses Trade Union Of Trying To Overthrow Government

Responding to expression of concern by the International Labor Organization about the beating of 31 officials and members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in Harare following a Sept. 13 demonstration, the government of Zimbabwe said that the labor leaders were trying to violently overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Harare said the alleged attempt to unseat the Mugabe government justified the use of force against the leaders of the protest. Critics of the government have charged that the trade unionists were severely beaten by police and security agents intending to punish them for organizing protests and to discourage further demonstrations.

Labor Ministry Permanent Secretary Lancaster Museka, who signed the response to the ILO, said the union leaders had no right to engage in an illegal demonstration. President Mugabe has issued similar statements - most notably in remarks to Zimbabwean embassy staff in Cairo, Egypt, soon after the beatings.

Police later said the labor activists sustained their injuries attempting to escape, but Mr. Mugabe in Cairo seemed to endorse police excesses, warning that those who demonstrated against his government would be "thoroughly beaten."

ZCTU Vice President Lucia Matibenga, one of those beaten by police on Sept. 13, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare in alleging that the union sought to destabilize to the ILO was merely seeking to justify its actions.

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