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Zimbabwe Opposition Still Controls All Seats After By-Election - 2003-03-31

Results of a by-election show Zimbabwe's opposition retained both parliamentary seats that were contested and its political dominance in the capital, Harare. While the opposition was pleased with the results, it is concerned about the arrest of the party vice president.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won both seats comfortably, although with reduced margins from its massive victory in general elections in 2000.

The results mean that the opposition still controls all parliamentary seats in Harare, as it does in most urban areas.

The by-election campaign was violent and tense. During the two days of voting, diplomats and a handful of independent monitors were harassed by ruling party supporters.

One monitor is in a hospital with extensive injuries after being attacked on Saturday.

At least another 10 people from the two constituencies were treated in hospitals late Sunday, as voting ended.

The opposition and several diplomats say the weekend by-elections were neither free nor fair. They took place amid the longest and toughest government clampdown on the opposition, since it was formed nearly four years ago.

The Movement For Democratic Change is not celebrating with much enthusiasm. Its victory was tempered by grim news from Bulawayo, that party Deputy President Gibson Sibanda had been arrested.

His lawyer said he was called to police headquarters for questioning, and while there was arrested. He is to be charged with inciting a widespread two-day general strike earlier this month, which the police say violates security legislation.

His lawyer does not know whether Mr. Sibanda will be released, or will be held in police cells, until he is formally charged in court.

The opposition said Mr. Sibanda's arrest is the start of a crackdown against its leadership. President Robert Mugabe has promised to get tough with the opposition.

Monday is the day when the opposition said it would launch another mass action, if its demands for democratic reforms were not answered. Well-placed sources close to the Movement for Democratic Change say it may have postponed any announcement because of the high level of political tension.