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Zimbabwe Opposition In Standoff With Authorities Over Election Rally

Harare police authorities have refused to grant permission for a rally Sunday at which Movement for Democratic Change founding president Morgan Tsvangirai intends to formally announce his candidacy for president in the election due next year.

MDC sources said police told the opposition grouping there were not enough officers to provide crowd-control at the Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield, Harare.

Constitutional law expert and National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku commented that police have loosely interpreted certain provisions of the draconian Public Order and Security Act, or POSA, to bar opposition activities.

Section 24 of the act merely requires that police be notified ahead of time regarding a public gathering, but Madhuku said authorities have interpreted this to mean that the organizers must obtain police permission to hold the event. Madhuku urged the MDC to defy the police and proceed with the presidential campaign launch rally.

Tsvangirai's MDC faction has vowed to hold the rally on Sunday despite the refusal by police, turning up political tension amid widespread labor unrest and discontentment over the rapid deterioration of living standards caused by 1,600% inflation.

The MDC campaign launch is a direct challenge to President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party, officials of which have proposed to postpone the election to 2010 in a so-called "harmonization" with the general election due that year.

But ZANU-PF is not united on “harmonization," and the question has been referred to provincial branches for discussion. A final decision is expected in March. If ZANU-PF decides to postpone the election, it must amend the national constitution. ZANU-PF holds a two-thirds majority which gives it a free hand in such amendments.

However, party insiders said President Mugabe is failing to garner support within his party for the proposal to extend his term for another two years - and in fact reports have suggested top ZANU-PF officials would like to see him step down.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai’s MDC faction told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the government now is panicking.

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