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Government Forces Stymie Labor Protests, Arrest Scores in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean police bottled up attempted protest marches in Harare and Bulawayo on Wednesday by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, the main trade union, while in Mutare and other provincial cities and towns turnout was light as officials maintained a heavy presence of police, soldiers and ruling party youth militia, sources said.

Police in Harare arrested ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibhebe and union President Lovemore Matombo along with 21 other activists.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Chibhebhe while he was being transported from the city center to a police lockup.

Reporters and others who witnessed the arrests said police beat Chibhebhe and the other officials with batons and rifle butts. The union leaders were being held late in the day at Matapi police station in the Harare's Mbare suburb, an opposition stronghold.

Police in Bulawayo arrested 48 protesters according to union and other sources. But a correspondent there said turnout was light in the face of numerous security forces.

Protests also failed to gell in Mutare, where authorities arrested a half dozen officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change the night before the march.

In an interview, State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa made light of union’s efforts to stage nationwide marches, accusing them of being sponsored by Western nations.

Attorney Alec Muchadehama, representing the detained union leaders, provided more information about the beatings they allegedly sustained at police hands.

From Harare, Studio 7 reporter Thomas Chiripasi described the activity in the capital, noting the heavy police presence and beatings administered to demonstrators.

Correspondent Babongile Dhlamini in Bulawayo said members of the riot police quickly quashed protests. In Mutare, in the country's east, correspondent Loirdham Moyo said few protesers turned up after police arrested labour and opposition leaders.

A report from the opposition MDC said army units with tanks deployed in Chitunwiza, 25 kilometers southeast of Harare, where about 50 people were arrested. in Chinhoyi, police arrested 15 protesters; 16 were detained in Gweru and 15 in Chegutu.

Elsewhere in the capital, authorities deported a delegation of eight youth supporters of the ZCTU from neighboring South Africa upon their arrival at the Harare airport early Wednesday. Some were affiliated with the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, and the South African Communist Party.

For more on the expulsion of the South Africans, reporter Blessing Zulu interviewed spokesman Castro Ngobese of the coalition of activist groups.

Whether Wednesday’s trade union protests are judged a success or a failure, more demonstrations are to be expected with the National Constitutional Assembly civic organization promising a “massive” public action next week.

NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku told reporter Patience Rusere that his group is not discouraged by the government pressure witnessed on Wednesday, and will continue to send its members into the streets until Harare understands the need for change.

A spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Students Union said it will organize protests soon after the NCA to press the issue of soaring university and school fees.The MDC is expected to sponsor mass action the week after next.

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