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Zimbabwe Opposition Strike Gets Slow Start

There was a mixed response to the call for a strike by Zimbabwean opposition forces. The strike was called to protest the government's ongoing crackdown on street vendors and illegal residential structures.

There was a marked decrease of traffic on the roads leading into the capital Thursday, the first day of the scheduled two-day strike. But, most shops and other businesses such as banks in downtown Harare were open.

One businessman whose establishment was open spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity. He said that he would shut down if his workers did not show up.

However, most of his work force reported for work Thursday. One worker told VOA that the main problem for most of them was the lack of transportation to get to work. He also said there was a heavy police presence in his low-income residential neighborhood.

"People were afraid they would go house to house forcing people to go to work," he said.

Also on Thursday President Robert Mugabe opened parliament after the March 31 parliamentary election, the result of which is disputed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. During his speech, he made reference to his government's clean-up campaign called Operation Restore Order by his government.

"More immediately, government has in liaison with municipal authorities instituted a vigorous clean-up campaign to restore sanity and order in urban and other areas," he said.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is part of the civic and political alliance behind the strike, boycotted the opening of parliament by Mr. Mugabe. Welshman Ncube, the MDC secretary general, told the online news service, Zim Online, that the party's 41 Members of Parliament would stay away from the opening ceremony in line with the party's call on Zimbabweans to boycott work in protest against worsening social and economic hardships.

Now in its third week, Operation Restore Order has seen the livelihoods of thousands of workers destroyed as the police drive them from wherever they are operating. An estimated 250,000 people have been left homeless after their illegal residential structures were demolished.

Estimates put unemployment figures in Zimbabwe as high as 80 percent. Inflation is currently more than 100 percent. The organizers of the strike could not be reached for comment.