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Zimbabwe Braces for Anti-Government Protests - 2003-05-30

Zimbabwe is preparing for planned anti-government protests next week.

Political analysts say they are not sure whether the street demonstrations aimed at bringing President Robert Mugabe to the negotiating table will succeed.

The armed forces have threatened to forcefully put down any demonstrations that turn violent. Heavily armed government troops were seen Friday moving into poor townships near Harare and Buluwayo, which are opposition strongholds.

Political science professor Elithas Mukonoweshuro at the University of Zimbabwe says the government threat could reduce the number of people who are willing to take to the streets. But he says people will stay away from work in any case.

On Thursday, South Africa's defense minister made an unscheduled visit to meet with his Zimbabwean counterpart. Although this subject was not discussed with the media, most analysts believe that South Africa wants to prevent a violent confrontation between demonstrators and government forces.

Brian Kagoro, a human rights lawyer, and a veteran of some of the first anti-government demonstrations, says Zimbabwe's poor will likely be at the forefront of any demonstrations, and would suffer the most if there is violence. He also expects an extensive strike.

On Friday, many activists and human rights groups were preparing home-made anti-tear gas masks and bandages and other first aid equipment, fearing there will be injuries on the streets next week.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on state television Thursday that anyone taking part in, or organizing, street demonstrations to bring the government down would be committing high treason.

On Friday, opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is on trial for treason, said people would not be deterred by these threats.

He said there will likely be casualties during the protests, but he said the far greater danger is to let the country collapse completely. Zimbabwe is suffering from an unprecedented economic and political crisis.

The opposition has sued to have the results of Mr. Mugabe's election last year invalidated due to alleged fraud. Mr. Tsvangirai says the planned demonstrations are designed to force Mr. Mugabe to come to the negotiating table to work out an agreement on new elections.