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Zimbabwean Women Spend Valentine's Day in Jail

Some 400 Zimbabwean women and about 15 infants spent Valentine’s Day behind bars in Harare and Bulawayo following the arrest of members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a protest group, demonstrated against dismal living conditions in the country.

Harare police sources said authorities arrested about 300 women in the capital Tuesday in addition to some 100 detained Monday in Bulawayo during a related protest. Bulawayo-based Women of Zimbabwe Arise leader Jenni Williams said the “Bread and Roses” protests were intended to focus attention food shortages and other economic problems that affect women and children, and on human rights.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from the capital on the Valentine’s Day roundup of female demonstrators.

Released later in the day after a court appearance with four other protesters, WOZA leader Williams vowed to continue demonstrations until Harare carries out what she termed “real reform” to feed a hungry population.

Williams told reporter Chinedu Offor that although her group's members experienced harsh conditions in police cells, the activist organization achieved its objectives. As efforts continued to free other WOZA members, Zimbabwean rights activist Betty Makoni said the government has not seriously addressed women's issues.

Elsewhere in Harare, police launched “Operation Valentine,” in which they rounded up and pursued street vendors who have been moving back into the center of the capital city following a May-July 2005 crackdown on the country's informal marketplaces.

Social activist Regis Mtutu criticized the operation as a regrettable replay of Operation Murambatsvina, Harare’s controversial slum clearance drive which ran in parallel with the crackdown on street vendors. Mtutu noted that the vendors chased Tuesday by the police included flower sellers who were nowhere to be seen on Valentine’s Day.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba asked two Harare residents named James and Yeukai for their thoughts about the renewed police crackdown on Valentine’s Day.