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Zimbabwe Labor Group Calls for General Strike - 2003-11-19


In Zimbabwe, the organizers of protest marches that were blocked by police on Tuesday have called for a nationwide general strike.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is calling for the strike to press for the release of its leaders and others arrested as Tuesday's protests were about to start.

A spokesman for the union, Mlanleli Sibanda, says the strike will go on even if those arrested are released.

A union statement says the strike will also demonstrate support for its demands for lower taxes and prices, and more respect for human rights, particularly labor rights.

The Congress of Trade Unions last organized a widely supported three-day general strike in Zimbabwe in April. But the union said it was abandoning general strikes and instead will carry out street protests. Mr. Sibanda says the latest change of plan comes because police blocked Tuesday's planned demonstrations.

The police arrested more than 300 protesters nationwide on Tuesday. All but 65 of them have been released on bail or after paying fines. But the leadership remains in custody.

Among those still held are the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Lovemore Matombo, and his secretary-general, Wellington Chibebe. The group is the umbrella body for the majority of private sector labor unions in Zimbabwe.

Also being held are civic leaders Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly and John Makumbe of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, as well as several journalists.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told the state-controlled Herald daily newspaper that all those still being held would be brought to court as soon as the police are finished with their investigation. He said they would be charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration.

Tuesday's marches were meant to protest the worsening economic and political crises in the country and alleged state sponsored violence against members of the opposition. 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 on Thursday.

Zimbabwe is faced with its worst economic crisis since independence 23 years ago. Inflation has hit an all time high of 525 percent per year, and more than 70 percent of the work force is unemployed. A shortage of foreign currency has led to shortages of fuel, essential drugs in hospitals, and spare parts for key public services, including the telephone system and water pumping equipment.

President Robert Mugabe's government is also accused of human-rights violations and abandoning the rule of law.

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