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Zimbabwe Commuter Bus Operators, NGOs, Allege Official Shakedowns

In a news conference on Wednesday, nine non-governmental organizations said they were being forced to pay between US$100 and US$1,000 to continue their operations in provincial locations

Tension has risen in recent days on the streets of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, as police have clashed with drivers of commuter omnibuses objecting to what they say are increased demands for bribes from traffic cops.

Meanwhile, allegations of a different sort of corruption have come from non-governmental organizations who say local authorities around the country are forcing them to pay exorbitant fees before allowing them to carry out their work.

Some Harare omnibus operators have halted service this week while others have raised fares from 50 cents to US$2 saying they must pass on the cost of police bribes to passengers, obliging those who cannot afford the fare to walk long distances.

Commuters from the Epworth, Msasa Park and Hatfield suburbs have been most affected. Police arrested four omnibus crews in Epworth for allegedly assaulting their fellow operators for refusing to join protests Monday against the police.

Two buses were impounded following a chase. Operators say police roadblocks throughout the country are now a money spinning venture for traffic cops.

Despite such complaints, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri said the traffic unit of the Zimbabwe Republic Police had set up anti-corruption groups in all provinces to deal with corruption and vowed not to heed demands to lift the roadblocks.

Police spokesman Superintendent Andrew Phiri told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that police will continue with their crackdown.

But commuter Maxwell Chibwe from Cranborne in Harare says he witnessed solders assaulting commuter omnibus drivers in the capital.

Non-governmental organizations also say they are under pressure from authorities.

At a news conference in Harare on Wednesday, nine NGOs including the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the National Constitutional Assembly said they were being forced to pay between US$100 and US$1,000 to continue their operations in provincial locations.

Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke recently banned 29 NGOs from operating in his province for allegedly failing to register with his office. President Robert Mugabe in a recent speech accused NGOs of trying to unseat him by unconstitutional means.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Director Macdonald Lewanika told Jonga Kandemiiri that NGOs consider the demands for payment to be extortionate and are encouraging their members to report this to the police and the Anti-Corruption Commission.