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Mugabe's Denial of Retirement Followed by Opposition Crackdown - 2003-01-15

There has been a wave of arrests of opposition politicians and activists in Zimbabwe.

One opposition Member of Parliament, Paul Mudzuri, was arrested in a poor Harare suburb Sunday and his location remains unknown. Police say a second opposition lawmaker, Job Sikhala, was arrested late Tuesday.

Later, three executive members of the Combined Harare Residents Association were arrested, and their chairman Mike Davies, said they were taken to a police station on the west side of the city.

According to the judicial watchdog organization the Legal Resources Foundation, human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba was also arrested.

Assistant police commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the arrests of the two members of parliament, and said they were being held in connection with unrest and the destruction of a public bus. He said he was still checking on other arrests brought to his attention.

Mr. Davies, of the Combined Harare Residents Association, says the arrests of his members were deplorable. He says lawyers have been contacted to help secure their release.

Mr. Davies expressed concern that Member of Parliament Mudzuri appears to have disappeared in police custody, and he wants to be sure his members do not suffer the same fate.

The Residents Association played a key role in ensuring that there were elections for a mayor and a city council last year.

For years, Harare residents had an appointed mayor and administration from the ruling Zanu PF party. The Residents Association launched a long series of legal challenges to force an election, which was held on the same day as nation wide presidential elections last March.

Candidates from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change swept to power and now control most of the urban centers. Last week, the government announced it would appoint governors for the major cities, an apparent effort to marginalize the elected mayors.

Harare's elected mayor Elias Mudzuri was arrested last Saturday. He was released early Monday, and he reported filthy conditions in cells in Harare Central Police Station. He said there was not enough food for inmates, and that if the first citizen of Harare could be arrested while doing his job, addressing taxpayers, no one was safe.

He said the government is constantly interfering with his work.

The mayor predicted that the government's critical shortage of foreign currency would force Harare residents to use impure water in three weeks, because there are no chemicals to purify the city's recycled water.

There have been small anti government demonstrations in poor neighborhoods of the city in the past two days.