A confrontation was looming between Zimbabwe's opposition and security authorities Tuesday on the eve of a scheduled protest march which police have banned, but with which opposition officials have said they are determined to proceed.
Sources said the Zimbabwe Republic Police and army units were on high alert as the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai sought judicial relief from the police order prohibiting the march through Harare.
Opposition officials say the police order banning the march was not in conformity with the amended Public Order and Security Act loosening restrictions on assemblies. The police had earlier approved the march but reversed that ruling on Monday.
That decision emerged from a meeting of the Joint Operations Command comprising representatives of the national police force, the army, intelligence agencies and prison authorities. Police said the opposition had been misleading as to its intentions.
A magistrate told lawyers for the opposition that the matter could not be taken up until 10 a.m. Wednesday, though the march was scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m.
The MDC formation called the march to pressure the government and ruling party to postpone elections called for March and to adopt a new constitution before any new elections are held. Those were key opposition demands in South African-mediated talks with the ruling ZANU-PF party which appear to have broken down.
A senior intelligence official told VOA that state security forces would deploy heavily armed police and troops backed by helicopters and water cannons to deal with the march. The source said electricity, water and cash shortages have made the country ripe for disturbances and the Joint Operations Command is concerned such turmoil could threaten the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Lawyer Alec Muchadehama, counsel for the MDC grouping, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was shocked the magistrate did not treat the case as urgent and refer it immediately to the high court as the MDC desired.
Following the Tsvangirai faction’s initial call last week for a protest march, spokesman Sean McCormack of the U.S. Department of State called upon the government of Zimbabwe to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place.