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Zimbabwe City Official Arrested - 2003-01-29

A city councilor in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, was arrested Wednesday, as police used tear gas to disperse a crowd at city hall. The crowd, estimated in the hundreds, had gathered to hear a speech by Mayor Elias Mudzuri, who is a member of an opposition political party.

Trouble started when city councilor Michael Laban protested to police, who were preventing people from getting into city hall to hear the address by Mayor Mudzuri. Though some had managed to get into the meeting, the police kept hundreds of others outside. The mayor, a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was speaking about city problems, such as chronic water shortages.

When police handcuffed Mr. Laban, the crowd started booing and a bottle was thrown in their direction. The police responded by firing tear gas canisters into the crowd, chasing people as they fled and hitting some of them with batons.

The violence lasted about a half an hour. Mr. Laban was taken into custody. There is no word of his whereabouts.

Like Mr. Mudzuri, Mr. Laban is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change. He was elected councilor in March 2002, in the same election that brought Mayor Mudzuri into city hall.

Harare is an opposition stronghold. In the March elections, the Movement for Democratic Change won 44 of the city's 45 wards. The opposition also controls Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

The government of President Robert Mugabe has made no secret of its irritation that the opposition controls the country's two biggest cities.

Mayor Mudzuri was jailed for two days earlier this month, for holding a meeting in a Harare township. Police say they arrested him because he didn't have permission to hold the meeting. The mayor argues that he does not need permission to meet with the people who elected him.

A police spokesperson says the mayor is using the meetings to further the agenda of the Movement for Democratic Change.