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Zimbabwe Police Arrest Union Leaders to Prevent Protests - 2003-11-18

Zimbabwean police arrested the organizers of protest marches Tuesday, just as the protests were about to get under way. Journalists and human rights activists were also taken into custody. In a bid to stop the nationwide marches before they started, the police arrested top leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the umbrella organization for workers all over the country.

Despite the presence of baton carrying policeman on the streets, about a hundred protesters gathered outside Harare city hall. The police surrounded the protesters and took many of them away before they could march.

The marchers planned to deliver a petition with their grievances and proposals on tax relief to Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa, who will announce the 2004 national budget Thursday.

The demonstrations were planned to protest the worsening economic and political crises in Zimbabwe, as well as alleged human rights abuses by agents of the state.

Announcing the march last week, the Trade Union leadership said it had moved from what it called largely ineffectual strikes to confrontational street protests.

Zimbabwe is faced with its worst economic crisis since independence 23 years ago. A lack of foreign currency has led to shortages of fuel, essential drugs in hospitals and spare parts for the telephone and water pumping systems. President Robert Mugabe's government is also being accused of gross human rights violations.