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Protesters Arrested Outside Zimbabwe's Parliament  - 2004-10-05


Several women activists were arrested outside Zimbabwe's parliament Tuesday as they were delivering a petition against new laws that would clamp down on human rights organizations. Journalists were also taken away in police vehicles.

Four women, who, along with others, marched hundreds of kilometers to Harare last week, went to parliament Tuesday to deliver a petition. They wanted to express concern about a law introduced by President Robert Mugabe in August and was due to be enacted in Parliament that would outlaw organizations defending human rights.

The women and scores more from the same group waiting outside parliament were arrested, as were two accredited photographers from news agencies, Reuters and the Associated Press.

Most of the women arrested Tuesday had already spent three days in prison for taking part in a 440-kilometer march from Bulawayo to Harare last week. The government says the protest march was illegal because the group failed to get prior police permission.

An hour before these arrests, a group of several hundred other protesters, carrying placards, sang and danced outside parliament, but were not stopped. It was not yet clear who they were, but they were not from the civil rights community.

Political analysts say the recent rise in civil rights protests is because this session of parliament is important as it is the last one before general elections next March.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has suspended participation in all elections until Zimbabwe introduces sweeping electoral reforms. Though the government has announced some changes in polling practices, the opposition has described them as cosmetic and falling far short of regional election standards of the Southern African Development Community. Those standards call for an independent election commission to supervise polling and election preparations.

President Mugabe has created an independent election commission. But the MDC claims the commission is biased because it is controlled by Mr. Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF.

Three of the top six members of the MDC leadership are in Pretoria, South Africa, this week and say they hope to gather support from the region to pressure Mr. Mugabe to comply with the SADC electoral standards he agreed to in August.

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