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Political Tension Mounts in Zimbabwe as Elections Draw Near

There is a growing tension between Zimbabwe's main opposition party and the police before a general election expected in March. The police say the opposition is breaching security laws, and the Movement for Democratic Change has accused the police of politically motivated persecution.

Thoko Khupe is an opposition member of parliament from second city Bulawayo who was released from detention Monday. She and scores of politicians and officials from her district were arrested during the weekend at what they say was a closed election-strategy meeting on private property.

The police say she held a public meeting without permission, as required under Zimbabwe's tough security laws.

The MDC officials have been charged with breaking security laws, and will face trial at some time in the future. Another MDC legislator, Nelson Chemiza, was arrested Tuesday accused by police of inciting public violence connected to a meeting he addressed in a rural area southeast of Harare on Saturday.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena says if there is a dispute over interpretation of the law it will be decided by the courts. He said Zimbabwe is going into an election period and that police were determined that there would be no political violence as in the last two national elections in 2000 and 2002.

He denied that the police were partisan and allowed the ruling Zanu PF to have meetings without permission. He said the police do not expect political parties to apply for permission for closed executive meetings.

Last week South Africa's ruling African National Congress criticized Zimbabwe laws that it said made it difficult for the MDC to hold meetings.

Assistant Commissioner Bvudzijena said violence statistics complied by Zimbabwe's Human Rights Forum were biased in favor of the MDC. He said both parties had committed political violence.

In every monthly report on political violence during the past four years, the Human Rights Forum and other non-governmental monitoring organizations have identified Zanu PF as the main culprit in political violence. Reports from non-governmental organizations monitoring legal action against political parties also report the overwhelming number of people charged in court with breaking security legislation were members of the MDC.

Mrs. Khupe, like most MDC legislators, has had many brushes with the law. Five days before her latest arrest she was in court in Bulawayo on similar charges dating back to 2002. It is not known when that case or many others outstanding for several years against MDC members will be concluded.