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Constitutional Outreach Process Delayed in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Public outreach meetings were to begin on schedule on Wednesday in most of the provinces, though In the Matabeleland North province coal town of Hwange it had to be put off to Thursday due to logistical issues

Zimbabwean authorities have again postponed the public comment phase of the country's constitutional revision exercise - this time however only in Harare, the capital, and Bulawayo, the second-largest city - citing fears the public meetings would be infiltrated by groups intent on manipulating the constitutional process.

Co-Chairman Douglas Mwonzora of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Revision said meetings in Harare and Bulawayo to draw out public opinion would be rescheduled after July 12.

Mwonzora said his committee received reports of plans by an unidentified group to pack outreach meetings so their positions would dominate. Other sources cited concerns World Cup fever would affect turnout.

Public outreach meetings were to proceed on schedule Wednesday in most of the provinces, though In Hwange, a coal town in Matabeleland North province, this was delayed to Thursday due to logistical problems.

Segezo Tshabangu, Hwange chairman of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said outreach officers were arrived late in the town for induction training. But he said residents of Matabeleland are eager to involve themselves in the process seen as a prelude to change.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman Sidney Chisi said confusion hindering the process has been spread by hardliners of the former ruling ZANU-PF party who do not want the process to succeed.

From the provinces came reports of outreach teams being stranded or without accommodation. Sources said hotels in Harare, Chinhoyi, Mutare, Marondera and Bulawayo were refusing to lodge outreach teams. In Harare a team was eventually put up in a training center of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority.

Outreach team members were also complaining of hunger as they had not received allowances. But Midlands team leader Joram Gumbo, a senior ZANU-PF parliamentarian, said things were proceeding according to plan.

An independent civic monitoring group formed by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe Peace Project said planning has proven to be inadequate.

Civic monitoring group coordinator Dzimbabwe Chimbga of the Lawyers for Human Rights told Jonga Kandemiiri that organizers have done little to inform the public, especially in rural areas.

National Constitutional Assembly spokesman Madock Chivasa said the NCA welcomes the commencement of the outreach phase, but does not think the public input will yield the "people-driven" constitution the organization has long advocated. The NCA opposes the current process which is directed by Parliament.