The faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai staged anti-government protests in Bulawayo on Thursday in one of the largest such protests seen to date with about 3,000 people taking part.
The protesters chanted songs against President Robert Mugabe and carried placards demanding his resignation for the country's descent into an economic abyss in which inflation is running over 1,200% and unemployment is estimated at more than 80%.
Opposition supporters marched through the streets from Bulawayo's market district to the city center, apparently catching police off guard as only four arrests were made.
Sources in Bulawayo said some marchers were students from institutions of higher learning such as United College of Education and Hillside Teachers College.
The opposition has also been galvanized by the ruling ZANU-PF party's proposal to postpone the presidential election due in 2008 until 2010 under a "harmonization" of election schedules so it can be held at the same time as general elections. But the effect would be to extend President Mugabe's term by two years.
Domestic and Western critics of the Mugabe administration say the country's woes are attributable to the crash program of land redistribution launched in 2000, devastating the key agricultural sector. But Mr. Mugabe blames the sanctions imposed on him and his inner circle since 2002 by the United States and the European Union.
Bulawayo correspondent Babongile Dlamini of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.
Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, the Tsvangirai faction's secretary for integration, healing and reconciliation, told reporter Patience Rusere that the opposition branch planned to expand the wave of protests to cities and towns throughout the country.
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