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Zimbabwe Government Bans Most Rallies by Opposition Party - 2004-08-17

As campaigning gets under way for parliamentary elections scheduled for next March, Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, complains that its political activities are severely restricted because most of its rallies have been banned.

Four out of five election rallies called by the MDC over the past three weeks were banned, according to the MDC election directorate in Harare.

The MDC says information is coming in from remote rural areas, particularly in southeast Zimbabwe near the Mozambique border, of violence against people who attended its rallies last month.

MDC information officer Maxwell Zimuto said Tuesday that in one such district, Makoni East, the party's 12-man executive has been forced to leave the area, and is in hiding.

He said out of 17 scheduled rallies over the last three weekends, 14 were banned. He said one was disrupted by thugs.

Only one opposition rally at the weekend went off without a hitch. It was in central Zimbabwe and was addressed by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Under the Public Order and Security Act, which became law shortly before the controversial presidential elections of 2002, organizers have to obtain written police permission to hold public meetings. Under the law, anyone who attends a meeting which has not been sanctioned can be arrested and sent to prison for up to one year.

MDC economics secretary Tendai Biti, who is also a leading Harare lawyer, said he obtained permission to hold a rally in a semi-industrial area in Harare on Sunday.

But he said police withdrew permission as a crowd began gathering and armed riot police moved onto the large field.

However, police superintendent Oliver Mandikapa said Tuesday he had no information whatsoever about any MDC rallies which had been banned or interrupted.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, who is presently drafting amendments to electoral laws ahead of the March election, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, as was ruling party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira.