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Zimbabwe Prepares for Possible Anti-Government Protests - 2003-03-17


Many Zimbabweans, mostly in urban areas, are bracing for the possible start of mass action Tuesday to protest the government's economic and human rights policies. For the first time since presidential elections a year ago, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has called for mass action. It is due to begin Tuesday with what is called a stay away, a strike by workers in all types of businesses and industries. The party has not said when the action will end.

Many workers have said they plan to stay at home, at least on Tuesday. Previous calls for a stay away by civic groups, and even the Congress of Zimbabwe Trade Unions, have largely been ignored in the past year.

This time, it appears that the main opposition party's call will get a better response. Several business leaders say they will not open their doors on Tuesday. Until now, businesses have ignored all calls for protest action.

Zimbabwe is currently suffering from high unemployment, food and fuel shortages, and record high inflation.

Civic leaders say they expect the police to react strongly to any mass action.

Reliable sources say protests in local areas, as opposed to city centers, are likely to dominate the mass action. The strategy is designed to make it more difficult for the police to prevent or break up the protests.

Sunday, about 50 riot police threw tear gas and fired live ammunition into the air at the site of a planned opposition rally. One woman died when she was run over by a vehicle in the subsequent panic.

The rally was planned before a by-election later this month in a poor suburb west of Harare.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the mass action is intended to be peaceful.

Mr. Tsvangirai is on trial for treason, for allegedly plotting to assassinate Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. He denies the charge. The opposition says Mr. Mugabe stole last year's election through fraud.

The police have said they are prepared for any political disturbances, and tens-of-thousands of police and army troops are on call for the next few days.

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