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Zimbabwe Police Break Up MDC Meeting With Diplomats - 2002-03-04

In Zimbabwe, police broke up a meeting Monday between representatives of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, and diplomats from about 25 countries.

A senior Western diplomat who was at the meeting said police threatened unspecified action if the meeting did not end immediately.

The diplomat said the gathering was presided over by Renson Gasela, the MDC spokesman on agriculture, who was discussing the food crisis in Zimbabwe. A U.N. agency, the World Food Program, says up to half-a-million Zimbabweans face starvation.

A spokesman for the MDC said the police claimed the meeting was illegal because four days warning had not been given under the recently passed Public Order Act. The spokesman said the participants decided to end the gathering peacefully, rather than risk what he called "a major international incident."

The spokesman called the police action "yet more harassment of the opposition by the government in advance of the presidential election in five days time."

Meanwhile, MDC foreign affairs spokesman Tendai Biti has described a decision by Commonwealth countries to postpone sanctions on the Zimbabwe government as "a bitter disappointment."

The 48 Commonwealth nations decided Monday to delay any action on Zimbabwe until after the election. Mr. Biti said that violence, intimidation and repression had worsened, and described the chances of a free and fair election as "impossible."