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Zimbabwe Opposition Members Arrested In Protest Over Maize Supplies

Officials of the faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai said authorities in Manicaland Province arrested six members of the party Tuesday Chipinge South for challenging local authorities who denied them the right to purchase maize from a Grain Marketing Board depot.

Faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said violence broke out between the MDC members and individuals believed to be members of the local ZANU-PF ruling party when they questioned the basis on which they were denied access to maize.

The Grain Marketing Board, a government cereals monopoly, controls distribution of much of the grain produced in the country or purchased by the government in foreign markets, such as nearby Malawi or neighboring South Africa. The opposition and civic groups allege that the GMB in rural areas excludes opposition supporters.

Chamisa said he did not have all the names of the arrested, but he believed one was the organizing secretary for the faction in Chipinge, Caleb Muchakotama. He said no charges had been brought as yet in the matter to his knowledge.

Chamisa told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe the incident reflected the government's systematic use of food for political advantage.

In a similar incident, the MDC reported that members were denied the opportunity to buy maize at a GMB depot in Chimanimani, also in Manicaland. The opposition said officials denied maize to those could not prove membership in the ruling party.

Officials at GMB headquarters could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-governmental Organizations said the political use of food is increasing as elections near.

The government has called local elections in January 2008 followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in March of next year.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...