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Harare Mayor Detained for Holding Illegal Political Meeting - 2003-01-12

Police in Harare are holding the city's mayor and 20 supporters on charges of holding an illegal political meeting Saturday. Police say they will be held in jail until charges are formally lodged against them Monday or Tuesday.

Mayor Elias Mudzuri of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party was "savagely manhandled" by police, according to an party spokesman. He and three members of the city council and 17 supporters were bundled into police vans Saturday in a low-income neighborhood while discussing water and sewage problems with local residents.

Police broke up the meeting and made their arrests, claiming the meeting was political and unauthorized. They said Mr. Mudzuri and the others would be charged under the Public Order and Security Act, which requires police permission for political gatherings. Police said Mr. Mudzuri would also be charged with assault; they accused him of biting a finger of one of the arresting officers.

Since his election by a massive majority last March, Mr. Mudzuri, a civil engineer, has accused the ruling Zanu-PF government of interference, which he says is making his job all but impossible. Shortly before Christmas he said the government was trying to force him out of his job.

The government has accused him of incompetence and corruption.

Mr. Mudzuri has begun the long task of renewing the city's decaying infrastructure.

The mayor's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said she was denied access to her client and the other detainees. She said she had tried without success to get an urgent court hearing to secure their release.

Last week, the government announced it was creating a new post of governor for Harare and also for Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, where an MDC candidate also won the mayoral election. The government said the governors would not interfere in the running of the cities, but MDC supporters have said the move is clearly at attempt to stifle the authority of the opposition mayors.