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Zimbabwe Strike Gets Mixed Support

In Zimbabwe support was mixed on the first day of a two-day nationwide strike. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg that the strike comes as regional leaders seek to mediate the Zimbabwe crisis.

News agencies in Zimbabwe say worker turnout at some factories was light on the first day of the strike, but that most shops and offices opened as usual. Public transportation and government offices were fully operational.

The president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, Lovemore Mutombo, nevertheless expressed satisfaction over the support for the strike.

"We can literally say that 90 percent of industry is shut completely and that in the city center almost all shops are open," he said.

He said security forces obliged people to go to the city center and ordered shop owners to open or risk losing their licenses.

Some workers said they feared losing their jobs or not being paid if they failed to go to work.

The Zimbabwean government said the strike was illegal.

Trade unions called the strike to press for higher wages, which have been eroded by Zimbabwe's 1,700 percent annual inflation rate.

Mutombo said the strike is merely the beginning.

"The General Counsel of the ZCTU made a resolution that after every three months we are going to continue with the strike action until all the issues are addressed," he said.

High unemployment, shortages of food and basic goods, and rising inflation are causing tensions in the country.

These have been heightened by a government crackdown on opposition politicians and civic leaders in which dozens have been detained and beaten.

Leaders of 14 southern African nations discussed Zimbabwe at a special summit last week and asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to organize talks between the government and the opposition.

Mr. Mbeki, in an interview with the Financial Times, said he hoped the various parties would agree to measures to ensure free and fair elections next year. But he ruled out forcing change in Zimbabwe.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he would boycott the election unless it is free and fair. But he told reporters in Johannesburg Monday that southern African leaders demonstrated last week that the Zimbabwe crisis needs attention.

"I am hopeful. The fact that [South African] President [Thabo] Mbeki has been given a new mandate with the backing of the region is a positive step," he said. "And hopefully we can successfully resolve this issue with his leadership."

He urged Mr. Mbeki to begin his mission soon saying quick action is required to create the appropriate conditions for a free and fair vote.