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Zimbabwe Government Deploys Security Forces as Protest Marches Called

A Facebook page called "Zimbabwe Million Citizen March" called for protests in Harare at 11:00 a.m. in the Harare Gardens, a city center park, at the main post office in Gweru, capital of Midlands province, and at the National Art Gallery in second city Bulawayo

Armed soldiers were deployed Monday in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare and in the second-largest city, Bulawayo, amid rumors that protests have been called by unknown parties in a bid to force President Robert Mugabe to step down.

A Facebook page called "Zimbabwe Million Citizen March" called for protests in Harare at 11:00 a.m. in the Harare Gardens, a city center park, at the main post office in Gweru, capital of Midlands province, and at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo.

A news release carried on the Facebook page said that "On 1 March 2011 Zimbabweans will hold mass protests in Harare to demand the end of the 31-year rule of the iron-fisted and corrupt dictator Robert Mugabe." Zimbabwean authorities have warned against any attempt to emulate the mass protests of North Africa and the Mideast, and arrested 45 people on charges of treason alleging they were conspiring to do just that.

But statements on the Facebook page and similar material on Twitter represented the first apparently genuine attempt to mount an Egyptian-style revolt in Zimbabwe.

Yet mainstream Zimbabwean non-governmental organizations shied away from openly endorsing the Facebook call for mass protests against Mr. Mugabe.

Some political analysts said the deployment of security forces including water cannon showed that Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF is in charge, not the unity government.

But University of Zimbabwe lecturer John Makumbe said the show of force will not stop people from registering displeasure with the government if the time comes.

National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku told Jonga Kandemiiri that the continued detention of Munyaradzi Gwisai and the other activists arrested and charged with treason, as well as the arrests of MDC officials, shows that nothing has changed since the formation of the unity government just over two years ago.

The Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai issued a condemnation of the continued detention of two of its parliamentarians and other activists arrested a fortnight ago and charged with perpetrating violence.

Legislator Douglas Mwonzora of Nyanga North, Manicaland, a co-chairman of the parliamentary committee responsible for overhauling the Zimbabwean constitution, and his Midlands North counterpart, Rodger Tazviona, were again remanded in police custody on Monday along with a number of party supporters.

In a statement, the MDC accused the police of working in league with ZANU-PF to “effect a crackdown on the people as a ruse to silence them and throw Zimbabwe back into the dark days of uncertainty.”

The party demanded the release of jailed pro-democracy activists including MDC-99 leader Job Sikhala, arrested this weekend, and International Socialist Organization leader Gwisai and 44 others accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Tsvangirai MDC deputy spokesperson Thabitha Khumalo told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the actions of police are deplorable.

Former opposition lawmaker Abednico Bhebhe said ZANU-PF may be trying to force the MDC out of the unity government so President Mugabe can call a snap election.

Elsewhere, Amnesty International called for the reform of Zimbabwe’s security services following the arrest of Gwisai and others held on treason charges. Amnesty International said the continued abuse of power by security forces signals the need for urgent reforms to end a culture of human rights violations and partisan law enforcement.

Amnesty says it is alarmed by charges that police beat at least seven of the activists. It said that it is monitoring the safety of those detainees.

Amnesty International researcher Simeon Mawanza said that if Zimbabweans plan to gather or protest they must be guaranteed their freedom to assemble and protest.

Meanwhile, a leading international newspaper said President Mugabe has sent troops to Libya to prop up embattled libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The London Sunday Times online edition reported that several hundred serving and retired soldiers and pilots flew to Libya early last Tuesday on a chartered flight,

The electronic newspaper quoted Zimbabwe state intelligence sources as saying that some troops were from the Fifth Brigade commando regiment. The Sunday Times said that British governement officials were aware of the dispatch of mercenaries.

The publication said the mission falls under a secret arrangement between Gadhafi, Mugabe and Zimbabwean military chief General Constantine Chiwenga.

The newspaper said the deal was so secret that Zimbabwean Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangwagwa, close to Mr. Mugabe, might not have been informed.

Amnesty International Mideast and North Africa spokesman James Lynch told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that his organization has asked the African Union to look into reports of mercenaries recruited to prop up the Gadhafi regime.