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Zimbabwean Capital Churned by Violence, Troops Counter Chipangano Gang

On Monday, troops were deployed in the Harare suburb of Mbare to end a disturbance when police could not contain clashes between members of the so-called Chipangano gang and commuter omnibus operators

Zimbabwean riot police on Tuesday sealed off the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and fired teargas into the building following street skirmishes with vendors outside.

Reporting from Harvest House in Harare, correspondent Thomas Chiripasi said police clashed with vendors outside the MDC's central Harare headquarters following a raid on street sellers doing business near the former opposition party's offices.

Eyewitness Tinaye Chikanya said the incident started when police moved to arrest street vendors, who violently resisted. Police fired teargas into the MDC offices where vendors had fled, then blocked surrounding streets, disrupting the central business district.

Tsvangirai MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said he was out of town at the time and did not have full details on what occurred outside the party's offices. Police spokesman James Sabau of Harare province said he had not yet been briefed.

The episode followed complaints by the MDC alleging partisanship by police who barred rallies scheduled by Mr. Tsvangirai. The party said it would lodge complaints with the Southern African Development Community and the African Union in their capacity as guarantors of the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing.

Police blocked Tsvangirai political rallies this past weekend in Lupane and Victoria Falls, both in Matabeleland North province.

Elsewhere, the army deployed troops on Monday in the Harare suburb of Mbare to end a disturbance when police were unable to contain clashes between members of the so-called Chipangano gang and commuter omnibus operators and touts.

Witnesses said trouble in Mbare began when Chipangano members set up their own terminus near the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation studios in Mbare, forcing omnibus drivers to pay them money to pick up passengers there. The operators refused, telling the Chipangano members their activities were illegal, sparking street fighting.

Police were unable to stop the violence and the army was called in to assist.

Harare Residents Trust Coordinator Precious Shumba said the military intervention was welcome, but he criticized the troops for beating residents indiscriminately. He urged the authorities to arrest members of the Chipangano organization who are well known in Mbare where they have long been committing crimes against residents.

Asked about the incident, alleged Chipangano leader Jim Kunaka said there was nothing wrong with the group's actions Monday, then switched off his phone.

Sources familiar with Chipangano say the group has close ties with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Kunaka is ZANU-PF youth chairman for Harare province.

The Chipangano have been stepping up criminal activities including extortion at bus terminals and seizure of market stalls in various locations around the capital.

Meanwhile, ZANU-PF youths from Mbare caused a commotion at the local magistrate’s court on Monday after they detained and threatened two lawyers representing two men from the same suburb charged with committing homosexual acts.

Lawyers Charles Kwaramba and Obey Shava were forced to seek refuge in the court after more than 40 rowdy youths barred their exit.

The lawyers had just taken on the cases after attorneys from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights stepped down due to harassment by the same group of ZANU-PF youths. The two new lawyers had obtained a postponement of the case.

Kwaramba told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that they reported the disturbance to police at Mbare station after sympathetic police officers helped them escape from the mob.

ZANU-PF Harare youth chairman Kunaka said his members will continue fighting homosexuality as long as it is against the law in Zimbabwe.