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Zimbabwe Opposition Launches Week-Long Protest - 2003-06-04

Zimbabwe's opposition has declared a week of protests against the government, but while many businesses have closed in support of the opposition, there have been few street protests. The leader of the opposition said Wednesday there is a good reason for this. People are afraid they will be attacked by government security forces.

The head of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, acknowledges that the planned demonstrations in the center of the main cities did not materialize. But the opposition says that is not their fault. It says that when people tried to hold demonstrations, the security forces quickly broke them up.

According to MDC officials, police, army, and state militia crushed every demonstration this week before it got going. Almost all the opposition members of parliament and protest leaders were arrested before lunch on Monday, on the first day of the planned protests.

In an interview with VOA, Mr. Tsvangirai said in the days before the protests, he had been in contact with people around the country about how they wanted to protest, and all said that they wanted to demonstrate in the streets, as well as stay away from their jobs.

Mr. Tsvangrai said the stay away part of the protest has been a success. That was certainly true from evidence on the streets Wednesday, the third day of the protests, as most major commercial and industrial organizations remained closed.

However, at least one supermarket chain opened in most city centers Wednesday. Sources close to the company said it received a telephone call from Security Minister Nicholas Goche on Tuesday threatening to withdraw its trading license if it failed to open as normal. Mr. Goche was not available for comment Wednesday.

Human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga on Wednesday offered a similar, if blunter, explanation than Mr. Tsvangirai for the absence of street protests. Mr. Tsunga said that although people are angry at the government, they are not angry enough to overcome their fear of being killed.

The Movement for Democratic Change called the week of mass action to press President Robert Mugabe to the negotiating table to work out an agreement leading to fresh elections.

Foreign minister Stan Mudenge summoned all foreign diplomats to a meeting Wednesday and told them that the nationwide strike was not an indication of support for the MDC. He told diplomats the stay away was caused by a conspiracy among anti-government businessmen.