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Zimbabwe Judge Postpones Decision On Farmers Bail

A judge in Zimbabwe says she will decide on Friday whether to grant bail to 21 white commercial farmers who are accused of attacking land invaders.

Lawyers representing the farmers on Thursday told High Court Judge Rita Makarau that police have been harassing the farmers ever since their jailing 10 days ago. After an hour-long appeal hearing, Judge Makarau said she needed more time to assess the lawyers' arguments and would rule Friday on whether the farmers would be granted bail.

The farmers, who have not yet been charged, are accused of ganging up to attack land invaders and squatters at a farm near Chinhoyi in northern Zimbabwe. The farmers say they were the victims of an ambush aimed at provoking them to retaliate.

Following the clash with the land invaders, pro-government militants stormed homesteads and buildings on more than 100 farms, forcing owners and workers to flee. According to the Commercial Farmers Union, personal possessions and farm equipment worth $18 million have been stolen or destroyed by the invaders.

Colin Cloete, president of the union, has repeated his accusation that police are doing nothing to stop the looting and violence. "We know which properties are being targeted," Mr. Cloete said, "but the police do not react."

The British and German embassies said Thursday that they had made official protests to the Zimbabwe government about lawlessness at Chinhoyi.

The main government daily newspaper, The Herald, said in a front-page report Thursday that the British embassy and white commercial farmers had engineered the looting, quote, "as part of a plot to justify international intervention in the country's affairs." British embassy spokesman Richard Lindsay described the allegations as "completely without foundation and patent nonsense."

Meanwhile, four journalists working for Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, were called in late Thursday for more questioning by police. The journalists, who were arrested Wednesday, had been released earlier on Thursday and allowed to return to work.

The four were arrested over an article that said police vehicles have been used in the looting at Chinhoyi.