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Zimbabwe Authorities Pursue Crackdown On Opposition Forces

Zimbabwean authorities continued to crack down on opposition elements Thursday in Harare and other cities after stifling attempts a day earlier by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to protest the decline of living standards for the country's workers.

Police made dozens of arrests in Harare and other cities in an apparent effort to make sure there would be no follow-up by organized labor or the political opposition.

Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from the capital.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing detained ZCTU leaders said police at the Harare Central Station declined to accept custody of the prisoners when they were sent there from Matapi, a suburb of the capital. Lawyer Alec Muchadehama said police sent him back to Matapi once they had seen the injuries the trade unionists had sustained.

Acting Information Minister Paul Mangwana said, on the one handm that Wednseday’s protests failed, adding on the other that the government was justified in using force to suppress the attempted protests. Mangwana asserted in an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu that workers had not heeded the call to protest against Harare.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, said the tough response by authorities will not deter protests planned by his party.

Assessing the impact of the union protests, political analyst and human rights lawyer Brian Kagoro, based in Nairobi, Kenya, said history has shown that state use of force is often counter-productive as it creates outrage and mobilizes resistance.

Later Thursday, civil society group met in Harare to plan their response to what they characterized as government brutality against the arrested labor leaders.

Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition Advocacy Officer Itayi Zimunya said civic groups, most of them participants in the Save Zimbabwe campaign, were revising plans based on the lessons learned in Wednesday's rout of labor demonstrators. Save Zimbabwe is a loose coalition of about 25 church, civic groups and opposition parties.

Zimunya said some civic activists formed groups to help those held by police, while others moved to build capacity to help those caught up in future mass actions.

Civic groups expected to take to the streets in the near future include the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe National Students Union, and the MDC faction led by founding president Morgan Tsvangirai.

Crisis Coalition spokesman Zimunya told reporter Patience Rusere that he sees the situation as one of continuing struggle pursued by all patriotic Zimbabweans.

The youth wing of Tsvangirai's faction of the MDC said it would protest the alleged official brutality. Organizers said that besides the widely reported beatings of union officials, youth leaders Thamsanqa Mahlangu and Amos Chibaya were assaulted by ruling party youth militia. MDC Youth Wing National Secretary Solomon Madzore told Carole Gombakomba that official violence could not be leftr unchallenged.

Administration spokesman William Nhara, also a senior ZANU-PF official for Harare province, said the allegations were unfounded. He said ruling party youth activists were ordered not to wear party regalia and to avoid opposition demonstrators. He suggested the MDC youth might have been assaulted by rival faction members.

Elsewhere, 99 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, an opposition activist group, appeared in magistrate’s court Thursday, three days after their arrest during a protest in Harare over high water bills and deteriorating urban services.

Lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe, said 94 women were released on free bail on condition they not interfere with witnesses and remain at their present addresses. Five were sent back to the cells because of problems with their personal documents.

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