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Zimbabwe Opposition Calls Two-Day General Strike

An alliance of opposition political parties, labor and civic organizations has called for a two-day work stoppage to protest a government crackdown on the country's urban poor.

The strike, proposed for Thursday and Friday, is to protest the hardships ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering as a result of the government's two-week campaign against informal traders and shack-dwellers. The exercise, which is continuing, has seen more than 20,000 people arrested and many rendered homeless.

The Broad Alliance, an umbrella body of various opposition groups confirmed the strike call. The group encompasses the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and other civic organizations.

The spokesperson for the group, Lovemore Madhuku, told the independent weekly, The Standard, that the Broad Alliance is prepared to provide leadership to the masses of Zimbabwe in their struggle against what he called the oppressive dictatorship. Mr. Madhuku described the Broad Alliance as a coalition of democratic forces, which were co-coordinating activities in pushing for democratic reforms in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Madhuku further accused the government of turning against its people. He accused the authorities of beating up people, destroying their homes and flea market stalls, instead of addressing pertinent issues like food, fuel and electricity shortages.

The crackdown on poor Zimbabweans comes at a time the country is experiencing its worst economic and political crises since independence in 1980, when President Robert Mugabe came into office. Unemployment stands at more than 80 percent, and inflation at more than 100 percent.

The government claims the clampdown, which it calls Operation Restore Order, is necessary to clean up urban areas, and root out illegal traders and those it accuses of hoarding basic necessities, which are in short supply, for sale on the black market.

The opposition has disputed the result of the March 31 parliamentary election, just as it did not accept the 2000 general and 2002 presidential elections, citing widespread fraud and rigging.

The police have responded to the strike call by promising to deal ruthlessly with people who will engage in what they call an illegal protest.

Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena is quoted in the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, as saying the police were aware of planned road blockades, shop closures and massive disruptions of public transport by what he called some rowdy opposition party youths and students from some institutions of higher learning.

Mr. Bvudzijena warned that the police would deal severely with, in his words, any elements bent on disrupting peace in the country.