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Zimbabwe Police Arrest Teachers Who Worked as Election Officials

The group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, says it is concerned about the arrest of many Zimbabwe Electoral Commission presiding officers, who are mostly teachers. Peta Thornycroft reports that the arrests have been linked to government statements about the conduct of the March 29 elections, which were lost by the former ruling ZANU-PF party.

According to the Zimbabwe rights lawyers, more than 100 teachers have been arrested, many of them in the past few days.

All of the arrests are connected with the recent elections. The teachers were hired by the Zimbabwe Election Commission as presiding officers for local polling places.

The lawyers said among those arrested were several head teachers, people who had been in the education system for decades. They are all being charged with criminal abuse of duty as public officers, fraud or violation of the Electoral Act.

The Zimbabwe education system has in recent years been severely undermined by a shortage of resources, the departure of teachers and harsh economic conditions. This is now being exacerbated, the lawyers say, by attacks on teachers who worked for the Commission.

Schools opened this week after unusually long holidays to allow for elections. Teachers unions have warned for several years that there is little learning or teaching going on at most public Zimbabwe schools, because so many teachers have left the profession.

The lawyers say the arrests appear to be linked to what they say were "insignificant anomalies" discovered during the recount of 23 constituencies during the past 10 days. Problems the lawyers say could easily be attributed to human error.

The lawyers say they see the arrests not only as persecution, but that in the event of a presidential run-off between President Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai the election will be presided over by the security forces.

Police are investigating at least 100 cases of electoral fraud from the country's disputed general elections, according to commissioner general Augstine Chihuri. He told state media this was what he called a "new phenomenon in the electoral history of Zimbabwe."

These elections were the first time ZANU-PF has been defeated since independence in 1980. Independent pollsters say that Morgan Tsvangirai defeated President Mugabe in the simultaneous presidential/parliamentary poll.

Results of the presidential election have not been released and may take several more days for verification, according to the commission.