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Zimbabwean Authorities Pressure Trade Union To Call Off Planned Protests

Harare has launched a crackdown on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ahead of nationwide protests the trade union has called on Wednesday, with police taking officials and members in some provincial cities into preemptive custody.

Security Minister Didymus Mutasa said law enforcement agencies were ready to crush demonstrations, echoing warnings from President Robert Mugabe that the state would deal harshly with those who challenged the control of his administration.

Police in Beitbridge, on the border with South Africa, and in Matabeeleland South and Masvingo provinces advised local ZCTU officials not to participate, telling the union that it should channel grievances to the so-called Tripartite Negotiating Forum which brings together representatives of labor, business and the government.

But the three-way negotiating forum has been stalled for many months, which labor blames on a lack of political will and intransigence by government negotiators.

Elsewhere, an intelligence source said President Robert Mugabe was being briefed on a twice-daily basis by the Joint Operations Command, which coordinates police, army and Central Intelligence Organization activities. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some in Zimbabwean intelligence are concerned that the opposition might embark on civil disobedience like that seen in Ukraine in 2004 and 2005.

The ZCTU meanwhile has vowed to press ahead with its protests. Spokesman for the union said it has notified the International Labor Organization as to its intentions and does not need police permission to hold protests, accusing Zimbabwean authorities of violating international accords by taking steps to suppress the demonstrations.

ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibhebhe gave reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe his interpretation of the domestic and international laws and agreements governing demonstrations by trade unions.

For a government response, Blessing turned to Acting Information Minister Paul Mangwana, who said the state has an obligation to maintain order.

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