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Zimbabwe Braces for New Labor Strikes


Zimbabwe is bracing for a two-day general strike by trade unions angry over low wages and deteriorating economic conditions. The stay-at-home days have been called as security forces continue their crackdown on opposition politicians and ordinary citizens seen to be anti-government sympathizers. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

Officials of Zimbabwe's main labor group, the Congress of Trade Unions, say they expect thousands of workers will not go to work to protest wages that have been reduced in value by inflation to a few dollars per month.

But, they say they are not planning any public demonstrations Tuesday or Wednesday in order to avoid clashes with police.

The government has accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of being behind the strike and says police will be deployed in major cities to ensure that those who wish to work can do so.

The Secretary-General of one faction of the MDC, Tendai Biti, says Zimbabwe's economic problems are the reason for the recent political unrest.

"The crisis in Zimbabwe is about inflation. The crisis in Zimbabwe is about food. The crisis in Zimbabwe is about corruption. The crisis in Zimbabwe is about elections that are stolen," he said.

Wages have been eroded by Zimbabwe's 1,700 percent annual inflation rate. The economy is also beset by food shortages, high unemployment, and falling production.

Political tensions have been heightened since police arrested and beat several dozen opposition leaders who were trying to hold an anti-government rally three weeks ago.

Dozens more have since been arrested. Some have been released to seek medical treatment.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is recovering from injuries sustained when he was detained, told reporters in Johannesburg that the violence continues.

"Mugabe's crackdown on our people leaves a trail of broken limbs, rape victims, torture victims, and dead bodies," he said. "Such is the reality of Zimbabwe today. The unprovoked and the continuing attacks on all Zimbabweans advocating for peaceful change must stop forthwith."

Security forces have reportedly removed nine opposition activists from their hospital beds, where they were recovering from injuries sustained during an earlier detention. They appeared in court Saturday on charges of being involved in a string of gasoline bombings, which they denied.

President Robert Mugabe received the endorsement from his ZANU-PF party Friday to run for re-election in next year's presidential vote.

The endorsement followed a southern African leaders' meeting in Tanzania that called for an end to western sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mugabe told party officials he received the full endorsement of the African leaders. But official sources in South Africa who spoke on condition of anonymity say the African leaders privately urged Mr. Mugabe to end the violence and enter into talks with the opposition.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been asked to mediate the talks.

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