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Violence, Arrests and Continued Confusion Mar Zimbabwe Constitutional Outreach

Residents of Karoi said about 200 soldiers marched in the Chikanga and Chiedza suburbs chanting slogans and threatening to "bring war to the doorsteps" of those who did not back the agenda of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF

The long-delayed public comment phase of Zimbabwe's constitutional revision process, plagued by disorganization and disruptions, took an even more worrisome turn on Friday as the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said three of its members were abducted in Mashonaland West province.

Elsewhere, police in Manicaland province detained three independent monitors of a civil society consortium formed by the Zimbabwe Peace Project and two other organizations. Those activists were still being detained in Mutare, the provincial capital, on charges of practicing journalism without a license, sources said.

A lawyer representing the three monitors, Blessing Nyamaropa, said they were being held in detention cells in the Mutare Central police station.

Residents of Karoi, Mashonaland East, said about 200 soldiers marched in the Chikanga and Chiedza suburbs chanting slogans and threatening to "bring war to the door steps" of those who refused to support the agenda of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. An army spokesman denied such a march took place.

Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West, remained a hot spot for trouble in the outreach process.

Senior officials managing the process voiced concern that the police have not deployed to maintain order in the sessions even after disturbances, as VOA Studio 7 reporter Sylvia Manika reported from Harare.

Reached by reporter Blessing Zulu, ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo denied reports that his party’s supporters are causing mayhem and disrupting the outreach program in numerous locations.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai MDC formation accused ZANU-PF of launching a violent campaign and confirmed three party members were abducted. Chamisa said the MDC grouping will appeal to the three unity government principals, who last week urged tolerance and nonviolence, to intervene.

From Mutare, independent monitor Tadziripira Khumalo said meetings started late due to a lack of transportation.

In Midlands province, outreach team leader Amos Chibaya said the process was peaceful and going well

In Matebeleland North, outreach official Segezo Tshabangu of the Tsvangirai MDC formation said that meetings in the province have not started because necessary equipment has not been provided. Tshabangu said that contrary to some reports, outreach officers remained in waiting at a safari lodge in Hwange.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project said in a report on political violence in May that Mashonaland Central province has seen the re-establishment of ZANU-PF bases following a series of MDC rallies there.

The group said it recorded 186 assaults in May compared with 156 in April. It attributed the rise in violence to the “amplified tensions" among political activists focused on the constitutional revision process. The new constitution will not only set new electoral ground rules but could usher in a new round of national elections.

Presidential and general elections in 2008 were marked by nationwide violence causing hundreds of deaths.