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Zimbabwe Withdraws Passport from Opposition Activist

Elias Mudzuri, the first popularly elected mayor of Harare, had his passport seized Sunday at Harare International Airport. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA the action took place even though the Zimbabwe government has admitted withdrawing travel documents is illegal and has had to restore passports it seized last year.

Mr. Mudzuri has been studying at Harvard University and was due back there this week to complete his last course.

He was about to board the aircraft when immigration officials called him back and asked to see his passport, and then took it away.

Mudzuri is an engineer by profession. He was elected mayor in 2002 by a massive majority on an opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket.

Soon after taking office, he set about restoring Harare's crumbling infrastructure and within months the city started to look better. But in the year following his election, the Mugabe government began to harass him, including arresting him. Finally, the government dismissed him from office.

Since then, Harare has been run by a government-appointed commission, which even the state-controlled media say does not manage the city properly.

Services have deteriorated. Water shortages are now common and many residents are living surrounded by ever-increasing piles of garbage.

Last December, Trevor Ncube, prominent Zimbabwean publisher of two independent domestic weekly publications had his passport withdrawn. So too did another MDC activist, Paul Themba Nyathi, and trade unionist Raymond Majongwe.

All later had their passports returned because the government admitted it did not have legal power to take the travel documents.

Mudzuri said he was hoping to go to court to challenge the withdrawal of his passport. He said he was outraged at the government's action.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who is representing Mudzuri, said the government has illegally taken Mudzuri's passport.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa was not available for comment.