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Protests Against Zimbabwe's Mugabe Fail to Materialize; Situation Still Tense

There was no visible response to a Facebook call for protests in Harare and other major Zimbabwean cities to 'demand the end of the 31-year rule of the iron-fisted and corrupt dictator Robert Mugabe'

Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, remained tense Tuesday as military and police maintained a show of force though protests against President Robert Mugabe called for by a group on the Internet social media site Facebook failed to materialize.

A Facebook page called "Zimbabwe Million Citizen March" called for protests in Harare, Bulawayo and other major cities to “demand the end of the 31-year rule of the iron-fisted and corrupt dictator Robert Mugabe."

Zimbabwean authorities for weeks have warned against any attempt to emulate the mass protests seen across North Africa and the Middle East, and recently arrested 45 people on charges of treason alleging they were conspiring to topple the government.

Those arrests and a general crackdown has been condemned by the United Nations and other human rights groups. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the arrest and alleged torture of activists and said the arrests “appear to be part of a growing crackdown on civil society and members of the political opposition."

Co-Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi of Mr Mugabe's ZANU-PF told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that calls for protests were put up on the IUnternet by Zimbabweans in the so-called diaspora who want to cause chaos in the country.

Zimbabwean police Tuesday also raided the offices of a number of civic organizations. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Program Manager Pedzisayi Ruhanya said police raided his organization’s offices and demanded to know the nature of its operations.

Meanwhile, Harare Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi ordered that 45 activists brought up on treason charges for meeting last month to discuss events in Egypt be examined by their own doctors and those on special medication be urgently attended to.

During the magistrate's court hearing, International Socialist Organisation leader Munyaradzi Gwisai denied he had plotted to overthrow the government.

Gwisai said he and his co-defendants had talked about using text messages and e-mails to educate people on human rights issues.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the human rights group People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty or PASSOP gathered at the country's Parliament to protest the arrest of Gwisai and the other 44 activists charged with treason, a capital offense.

PASSOP demonstrators demanded the immediate release of the accused and an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. The demonstration was also called in solidarity with the protest urged through Twitter as well as Facebook this week.

PASSOP Project Coordinator Anthony Muteti said organizing a mass protest is very difficult when the government concerned is determined to stop it.

In London, members of the Zimbabwe Vigil pressure group demonstrated outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in solidarity with the protest called in Harare.

The group protested what it charged was a Zimbabwean role in the Libyan crisis, calling Mr. Mugabe “Mugdafi” and hanging him in effigy during the protest.

Zimbabwe Vigil Coordinator Rose Benton told VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo the protest in Harare may have not taken off due to a heavy security presence, but Zimbabweans in the diaspora did their part.

Elsewhere, 22 members of the Bulawayo-based pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise were arrested on Monday and Tuesday in the Entumbane-Mabutweni surburb of the country's second-largest city for allegedly gathering to disrupt peace.

WOZA leader Jenni Williams says her organization did not have information as to the wherabouts of the 15 members arrested on Tuesday.

Seven others were arrested on Monday as they attended a burial society meeting in the Mabutweni suburb. Some of those seven said the police beat them on the bottoms of their feet. They face charges of gathering to plan disturbances of the peace.

Williams told reporter Patience Rusere that her organisation was not heeding the call of the Facebook organizers but simply mobilizing around bread-and-butter issues.