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Zimbabwe Opposition Tries to Force Mugabe to Negotiating Table - 2003-05-28

Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has called for mass protests starting June 2.

There have been differing interpretations of the mass action in various media, but the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube, said ousting President Mugabe is not on the agenda.

"It has never been the removal of Mugabe from office, the objective is always a re-run of the presidential election as far as we are concerned, that election was conducted unlawfully and illegally and the objective of the mass action is to return to legitimacy," he explained. "The MDC has never wanted to walk to State House, the MDC has never wanted the installation of its candidate as president; we want the president to be properly elected."

The government has warned that it is going to be tough on anybody who participates in the demonstrations. For the past few weeks there have been police roadblocks on roads around the capital, but Mr. Ncube says his party has no choice but to protest.

"We are painfully aware of the risks that are involved; we are dealing with a regime, which is known for its brutality and for its lack of respect for human life," he said. "But unfortunately there is no freedom which comes without a price, if Mugabe wants to shoot peaceful people; unarmed, all they will be carrying are placards and he wants to live with that in his conscience, let it be."

The MDC called for a two-day general strike in March. That action was widely observed, and the party threatened to follow it up with more action if the government did not seriously start to address the political and economic issues facing the country. The government dismissed the MDC's demands, but the stakes are much higher now as the economy continues to deteriorate.

Mr. Ncube says he is aware that next week's demonstrations might not force Mr. Mugabe to the negotiating table, but he adds that his party is prepared to keep on looking for other ways to keep pressure on the president.