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Zimbabwe Authorities Move to End General Strike - 2003-03-20


Military and civilian authorities in Zimbabwe moved into smaller towns in force early Thursday at the end of a two-day general strike across the nation.

Police and members of the army were reported to be in at least two small towns Thursday in the wake of the strike. Several businessmen said Masvingo, halfway between Harare and the South African border, was aswarm with armed military officers. Army troops were also out in force in the eastern city of Mutare.

A number of people were reportedly still in custody Thursday, including at least one opposition member of parliament.

Some workers in and around Harare said they approved of the strike because it was the only weapon they had to tell President Robert Mugabe he should leave office. They said they would have been prepared to strike for longer than the two days called for.

Following the strike, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sent a message to the government saying that unless democratic governance was returned to Zimbabwe, mass action would intensify. The MDC also said it would decide Saturday when and how to proceed with mass action.

Well-placed sources said there were fears, particularly in two poor suburbs outside Harare, that police and the army intended to round up activists. One man said some of the most visible strike organizers had gone into hiding.

Opposition member of parliament Roy Bennett said scores of his workers were beaten up by at least 60 members of the army Thursday, near Harare. Mr. Bennett said the workers told him that the army came to his property and claimed that he organized military training for the two-day strike.

Mr. Bennett said he did not know how many people living on his property had been beaten up, but that among the injured were women and children.

Mr. Bennett said he was going to a mortuary in Harare to identify the body of one of his workers who had died.

Mr. Bennett, who is white, has been arrested several times, and was allegedly tortured the last time he was in detention. He is one of the most popular politicians in Zimbabwe and attracts large crowds when he holds political rallies.

Police had no immediate comment about the death.

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