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Zimbabwe Police Put Down Opposition Protests - 2002-04-08

Zimbabwe police have broken up demonstrations by hundreds of anti-government protesters attempting to march in support of a new constitution in cities and towns across the country.

In Harare Saturday, police blocked roads and chased protesters as they attempted to assemble in the capital. At least 22 people were arrested. A spokesman for the National Constitutional Assembly, the pro-democracy group that organized the protests, says its chairman, Lovemore Madhuko was among those arrested.

The group had called for mass demonstrations to press for a new constitution that would curb President Mugabe's widespread power. It says Mr. Mugabe used his powers to fraudulently win last month's presidential election.

Authorities declared the protests illegal under the new Public Order and Security act and they warned Zimbabweans not to participate, saying penalties under the law would be applied with full force. Penalties range from fines to a year in prison. Protest leaders say the ban is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, more than 350 supporters of the National Constitutional Assembly were released on bail Saturday after spending two days in detention. The activists were arrested in Harare Thursday for what police called an unauthorized meeting.

Zimbabwe has been wracked by political violence for the past two years. Human rights groups say the ruling party waged a calculated campaign to intimidate opposition supporters and ensure Mr. Mugabe's re-election.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.