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Zimbabwe Opposition Criticizes 'Repressive Laws' - 2002-01-10

Zimbabwe's parliament has approved two new laws that clamp down on political activity and give authorities sweeping power to arrest or jail political opponents and anti-government protesters.

The new measures come in the run-up to presidential elections on March 9th and 10.

The Public Order and the General Laws Amendment Bills were passed after a marathon debate in parliament, during which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, tried to persuade the government to rethink the measures.

President Robert Mugabe's ZANU (PF) party holds 92 of the 150 seats in parliament.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa used the ruling party's majority to suspend rules of debate and ignore the usual time period for parliament to consider legislation.

MDC Foreign Affairs Secretary Tendai Biti termed the laws "fascist."

The party's legal affairs spokesman, David Coltart said the government acted illegally and against the constitution by bringing back the General Laws Amendment Bill after it had been rejected the day before. He said the MDC will challenge both laws in court.

Political analysts say the new laws allow Zimbabwe authorities to ban political gatherings that are critical of the government. The ban even extends to preventing opposition supporters from putting up campaign posters.

Police are given the power to conduct random searches without warrants, while people found guilty of terrorism face life imprisonment and even the death sentence.

Zimbabwe authorities are allowed to shoot to kill in certain circumstances while courts are forbidden to grant bail for offenses ranging from murder to armed robbery. Criticism of the president is a criminal offence.

Parliament will meet again on Tuesday to debate the Access to Information Bill, which has been widely criticized by legal and political analysts in Zimbabwe for stifling press freedom. The bill says that to work in Zimbabwe journalists have to be citizens of the country and must have a government license. Any journalist who violates the regulations faces up to two years in jail.