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Tension Rises Following Zimbabwe Student Protests in Provincial Bindura

The Mashonaland Central provincial capital of Bindura was disturbed Thursday as youth militants of the ruling ZANU-PF party besieged the courthouse demanding that university students arrested this week for protesting tuition hikes and for allegedly setting fire to a campus computer facility be denied release on bail.

Authorities closed Bindura University after the institution's computer lab was set afire late Wednesday, allegedly by students angered at the arrest of 19 students who had protested tuition fee hikes and demanded to meet university officials. More students were arrested in the course of Wednesday, bringing the total in custody to 56.

Legal sources said demonstrators thought to be ZANU-PF youth militia - also known as "Green Bombers" for the color of their uniforms - besieged the courthouse saying the students should not be granted bail because they were opposition supporters.

Sources said ZANU-PF Political Commissar Elliot Manyika, the member of parliament for Bindura, a ZANU-PF stronghold, organized the demonstration by the "Green Bombers" and told local police to deny the students food and water.

Lawyer Alec Muchadehama of Harare, who was in Bindura this afternoon, said ZANU-PF youth were milling around near the courthouse and that roadblocks were put up around the periphery of the town. Other sources close with the situation said police armed with AK-47 assault rifles had cordoned off the Bindura University campus.

National police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena refused to comment, but it was known that the number of students arrested had risen from 19 on Tuesday to 56 Thursday. The students were remanded to police custody pending arraignment May 26.

Reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reached ZANU-PF official and parliamentarian Elliott Manyika, who denied having anything to do with the demonstration by the ruling party's youth militia at Budiriro's courthouse.

Zimbabwe National Students Union President Promise Mkwananzi said members of his union sent a letter to President Robert Mugabe complaining of harassment.

Elsewhere, police in Harare arrested 48 members of the National Constitutional Assembly on Thursday as some 250 activists protested pending legislation that would regulate and circumscribe the activity of nongovernmental organizations, and reports suggesting that President Mugabe might seek to extend his term past 2008.

NCA spokeswoman Jesse Majome confirmed the arrests and said that no charges had been brought against the demonstrators as of late Thursday.

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