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Zimbabwe Civic Group Challenges Harare Ban; More Than 80 Arrested

Zimbabwe's National Constitutional Assembly, an opposition civic group, defied a ban imposed by Harare on political gatherings by staging demonstrations Wednesday in five Zimbabwe cities and towns. Police, responding, arrested more than 80 people.

NCA activists demonstrated in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo in a direct challenge to a police ban imposed last week on political gatherings in Harare and the satellite city of Chitungwiza, though in effect the ban applied nationally.

The government has also imposed a de facto curfew on parts of Harare, ordering bars and other establishments to close their doors at 7 p.m. The situation remains tense in Zimbabwe as steep economic decline has exacerbated a longstanding political crisis.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe was present on the streets of the capital as demonstrators marched in protest during the lunch hour.

Meanwhile, NCA officials said riot police came down heavily on demonstrators in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Gweru. In Mutare, 25 members of the group were arrested. In eastern Masvingo, authorities detained some seven people, they said.

Sources in Bulawayo said police there were seeking the NCA chairman for Bulawayo Province, Reggie Moyo. Protesters in Masvingo hit the streets in three waves starting at 3 a.m., when they erected makeshift barricades, and at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Marko Shoko, the NCA youth chairman for Masvingo, during the last protest of the day. Shoko said that ordinary members of the public joined the protest to show their solidarity.

NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said his organization mounted the latest protests to maintain pressure on Harare to introduce a new, people-driven constitution.

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