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Zimbabwe Political Climate Heats Up as Tensions Within Unity Government Mount

A first meeting with the three parties in Zimbabwe's unity government called by the country's Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration ended abruptly after some 500 ZANU-PF militants invaded the conference venue

Longstanding tensions within Zimbabwe's national unity government have been manifesting themselves lately in the form of disruptions and intimidation by militants of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, observers say.

On Saturday, a first meeting with the three political parties in the inclusive government parties called by the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration ended unceremoniously after some 500 ZANU-PF militants invaded the conference venue. Sources said the ZANU-PF activists ignored a call for order from Vice President John Nkomo and ZANU-PF Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa and chanted as revolutionary songs.

Facilitated by Rev. Andrew Wutawunashe of the Family of God Church, the gathering was organized to sensitize political party leaders on pertinent issues. Each party was to have 60 delegates, but ZANU-PF supporters objected that they would be outnumbered by the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said he could not comment as he had not been briefed on the circumstances of the aborted meeting.

Spokesman Edwin Mushoriwa of the MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said the unruly behavior of the ZANU-PF activists showed the party is not ready for national healing and reconciliation.

Co-Minister for National Healing Sekai Holland of the MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the healing and reconciliation body has learned an important lesson about how political parties should be approached in the future.

Elsewhere, ZANU-PF officials and Central Intelligence Organization agents were said to have barred Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and other ministers and legislators of the Tsvangirai MDC formation from visiting a hospital in the Gutu Central constituency of Masvingo province on Sunday, delegation members said.

Irwin Chifera reported from Masvingo on the episode.

Meanwhile, MDC breakaway faction leader Job Sikhala appeared Monday before a Harare magistrate to face charges of violating a section of the Public Order and Security Act in connection with his public announcement earlier this month of the formation of party, correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported.

Despite the participation of the Tsvangirai MDC in the unity government, observers say there appears to be a kind of crackdown in progress against members of the party and the progressive movement by ZANU-PF which some say is in anticipation of an upcoming constitutional referendum and possible elections in 2011.

In another such development, police raided and detained two employee of the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe on the weekend for allegedly possessing pornographic material.

Sources said ZANU-PF and the security services it controls are flexing their muscles aiming to influence the constitutional revision process as it moves into the public outreach phase, though analysts also note that the Movement for Democratic Change is also gearing up for possible elections next year.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman Sidney Chisi told VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere that the mini-crackdown is likely to further destabilize the already shaky unity government.