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Zimbabwe Police Allow Opposition Prayer Meeting


In Zimbabwe, police have allowed an opposition prayer meeting to proceed in the second city of Bulawayo, but ordered organizers to withdraw scheduled speakers from the political opposition. VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Police stood watch, but did not intervene as religious leaders Saturday addressed several hundred supporters at a church in Bulawayo.

The gathering, billed as a prayer meeting, was organized by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, an alliance of religious, civic and pro-democracy groups. Senior leaders of opposition parties were in attendance, as were religious leaders from several neighboring countries.

Speakers condemned the Zimbabwean government for disastrous economic policies and political repression. And they criticized African governments for failing to press the Zimbabwe government for reform.

Police earlier declared the rally to be illegal because political gatherings are currently banned. However, the meeting was allowed to proceed after police ordered organizers to withdraw speakers from opposition parties from the program.

Security forces one month ago prevented a similar rally from taking place in Harare. Several dozen leaders of opposition parties were detained and beaten. Many more were subsequently arrested.

Following an international outcry over the violence, a summit of 14 southern African nations asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between the government and the opposition.

Chris Landsberg of Johannesburg's Center for Policy Studies says Mr. Mugabe retains considerable support among certain portions of the armed forces and veterans of the liberation struggle, but has lost support within the ruling ZANU-PF party. "Unlike two years ago, or 18 months ago, Mugabe has really lost support in his own party. I wouldn't be surprised if as many as 40 percent of the Politburo and the Central Committee supports him. So, significantly, therefore he doesn't enjoy the backing of two-thirds of his party," he said.

ZANU-PF last year blocked an attempt by Mr. Mugabe to extend his term by two years. But at a meeting following the southern African summit, it endorsed him as the ruling party's candidate in next years' presidential elections.

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