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Zimbabwe Cities Tense After Protests Against Constitutional Revisions

Harare and other major Zimbabwean cities remained tense Wednesday evening after demonstrations by members of the National Constitutional Assembly in Harare, Gweru, Bulawayo and Masvingo protesting President Robert Mugabe's declaration to the parliament Tuesday that he will push on with changes to the constitution.

The NCA has been a leading advocate of a complete rewrite of the constitution - one of the political opposition's main demands in South African brokered crisis talks. The government proposed amendment would reshape the electoral landscape eight months before presidential and general elections set for March 2008.

Opening parliament's last session before those elections, Mr. Mugabe said the ruling ZANU-PF government will push through constitutional amendment Number 18 which adds scores of seats in the lower and upper houses, among other changes.

The president recently rejected the opposition’s demand - in the context of crisis talks mediated by South Africa - for a complete overhaul of the basic document.

Police arrested some 60 protestors around the country and beat up a number of NCA demonstrators and bystanders, according to witnesses.

Police with automatic rifles, batons and dogs fell upon the protesters in Harare and unleashed tear gas as water canon stood by. No arrests were reported, though.

NCA officials in Mutare said police foiled their protest by rounding up members at their homes Tuesday night. They said 28 NCA members had been arrested in the city since Tuesday. In Masvingo, 15 NCA members were arrested and several bystanders were severely beaten, while in Gweru 17 were arrested, organization sources said.

Masvingo NCA Youth Chairman Marko Shoko told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the NCA opposes piecemeal constitutional changes.

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