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National Strike Fizzles in Zimbabwe - 2002-03-21

A national strike in Zimbabwe has failed to take hold on its second day -- amid tensions over this month's disputed presidential election won by longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

Shops, offices, and banks remained open today (Thursday), as few workers appear to be observing the strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The three-day strike also received little support on its opening day Wednesday.

The government has declared the strike illegal. The work stoppage was called to protest harassment of workers, many of whom are supporters of opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

Meanwhile, white farmers -- perceived as supporters of the opposition -- are accusing ruling party militants of stepping up attacks in the aftermath of the election. The Commercial Farmers Union says at least 50 farmers have been illegally evicted from their properties since the balloting on March 9th through the 11th. A white farmer and a farm worker are reported to have been killed.

Wednesday, Zimbabwean authorities formally charged Mr. Tsvangirai with treason over an alleged plot to assassinate President Mugabe. Mr. Tsvangirai has strongly denied the charges. He was released on bail.

Australia has joined the United States and other nations in condemning the treason charges against Mr. Tsvangirai. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told parliament today (Thursday) the charges amount to harassment of the opposition leader. He says Australia is reserving the option of imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe's government.