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Arrests in Harare as Civic Group Protests Mugabe Birthday Festivities

Police in Harare arrested about 70 members of the National Constitutional Assembly, a political reform activist group, who marched in protest of lavish celebrations being planned for Saturday to mark the 82nd birthday of President Robert Mugabe.

The arrests came as the president was about to leave the Munhumutapa executive office building for a private birthday celebration with his family at State House.

Though the ruling ZANU-PF party is organizing a celebration in Mutare on Saturday, Mr. Mugabe's turned 82 on Tuesday, February 21. Most of the NCA protesters who took to the streets of Harare near his office were women, witnesses said.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku about the timing of the demonstration.

In Mutare, preparations continued for the presidential birthday celebration. But critics of Mr. Mugabe said the country has little to be happy about.

Ruling party officials said Mr. Mugabe has capably piloted the nation. The state-run Herald newspaper called Mr. Mugabe “the greatest hero ever to grace Zimbabwe and Africa.” Security Minister Didymus Mutasa called him “a messenger from the Almighty.”

Enock Porusingazi, a ruling party official in Manicaland, said Z$10 billion (around US$65,000) was raised to entertain a throng of 30,000 expected in Mutare, capital of the eastern province. But some companies complained of pressure to contribute.

Reporter Zulu asked researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies for his view on the ruling ZANU-PF party’s celebratory efforts.

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