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Hundreds Arrested As Zimbabwean Civic Group Stages Protests Across Country

Zimbabwe's nongovernmental National Constitutional Assembly organized protests in several of the country's main cities demanding a rewritten constitution as the basis for democratic reforms. Police in Harare and Bulawayo arrested more than 200 people.

NCA members staged demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo and Gweru. Police in Harare, the capital, broke up a demonstration by NCA marchers at the parliament. Some 200 protesters were being held late Wednesday evening.

NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said the hoped-for turnout of 1,000 demonstrators in each city did not materialize. But he expressed satisfaction that the organization has managed to bring out a core group of people ready to challenge the authorities.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare.

In Bulawayo, at least five people were arrested during demonstrations. NCA Regional Chairman Reggie Moyo, had been picked up by police Tuesday, but later released.

NCA Youth Chairwoman for Matebeleland North Sithembelihle Mhlanga gave Studio 7 an account of the demonstrations in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.

From Gweru in the Midlands, NCA Youth Chairman Alois Dzvairo told reporter Carole Gombakomba about protests in the country's industrial heartland.

In Masvingo, capital of the southeast province of the same name, regional head Ray Muzenda, briefly detained Tuesday, said no arrests were made on Wednesday.

There were running battles in Mutare between police and demonstrators, with at least 12 NCA members arrested. Angry demonstrators manhandled a policeman, bringing a squad of heavily armed officers into action to rescue him from further beating.

Organized labor is also stepping up activity: the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said it will hold street demonstrations or stage sit-ins by the end of the month. ZCTU Information Officer Mlamuleli Sibanda said workers want a minimum wage of $Z68 million, which would put them level with the officially established poverty line.

Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere asked Sibanda why the union’s executive council has decided to take a more radical stance relative to the nation's employers.

In Harare, meanwhile, rival MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai met Wednesday with 10 senior officials of his party who told him they are ready to launch direct action to step up pressure on President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai warned supporters not to engage in violence against the rival opposition faction, sources said.

Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe about preparations for a campaign of civil disobedience.

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