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Zimbabwe Strike Heads for Collapse

A two-day strike called to protest a crackdown by President Robert Mugabe's government on informal traders headed for a total collapse on Friday when most businesses opened as usual for the second consecutive day.

A coalition of civic groups, supported by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had urged Zimbabweans to stay away from work on Thursday and Friday to protest the destruction by police of illegal homes and street businesses.

Police said a week ago they had arrested nearly 23,000 people and a UN official has estimated about 200,000 were left homeless.

In a statement, the main Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions which participated in the call, acknowledged it had attracted "a minimal response", with its sole success reflected in a boycott by MDC legislators on Thursday of Mugabe's speech to officially open a new parliament.

State media crowed over the flop on Friday, and the official Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying the MDC had behaved like "little children, not yet mature".

"If they want to stay away, the better and we will move on...What room is there for you to discuss anything with them," said Mugabe, whose ruling ZANU-PF party denies charges it rigged March 31 elections to win a constitution-changing two-thirds majority in parliament.

A Reuters round-up of the capital's major industrial sites and the central business districts on Friday showed most firms were open and employees at work on the second day of the protest.

"I don't honestly see the point of stayaways. Maybe in the past, but not now," said one woman as she hurried to work.

Thousands of self-employed people have seen their informal business premises razed to the ground and their goods confiscated in what the government calls a clean-up campaign meant to snuff out crime, including illegal trade in scant foreign currency and basic food commodities.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies charges he has mismanaged the country, leading to chronic shortages of foreign currency, food and fuel, as well as rampaging inflation and unemployment.

The veteran leader says opponents of his drive to forcibly redistribute white-owned farms among blacks have undermined the economy through sanctions he argues have affected ordinary Zimbabweans instead of the ruling elite.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.