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Heavily Armed Police Keep Mass Demonstrations Out of Zimbabwe's Capital - 2003-06-02

Most of Zimbabwe's towns and cities are closed as part of anti-government protests. But the arrest of the opposition leader and many opposition organizers, as well as a strong security presence in the city prevented planned mass demonstrations in the capital.

The police arrested Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai just one hour before he planned to begin leading a march from the poor suburban townships to the city center.

Police first tried to arrest Mr. Tsvangirai late Sunday, but failed because he was not at home.

Mr. Tsvangirai is accused of being in contempt of a court order issued Saturday that banned opposition strikes and demonstrations. He appealed the court order and was released. He was then escorted by police to the High Court, where he is already on trial for treason.

In the ongoing treason trial, the state asked the High Court to tighten his bail conditions to forbid Mr. Tsvangirai and his two co-defendants from making inflammatory statements or inciting people to mass action. The judge postponed a decision on new bail conditions until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, heavily armed police tear-gassed demonstrators in several Harare townships, and in other smaller towns around the country.

Eight opposition members of parliament were reported under arrest and one was in a hospital after being beaten up by security forces. The mayor of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, was also arrested.

Three people were shot in the Highfields suburb close to Harare city center and are hospitalized. Details are still coming in on the extent of the arrests and injuries of opposition supporters.

Although the protest marches were blocked, the general strike closed down more than 90 percent of businesses in Harare and Bulawayo.

The opposition said it has called this mass action to pressure President Robert Mugabe to negotiate his retirement and to lead to new elections.

The government has vowed to crush the mass action. It distributed tens-of-thousands of leaflets around Harare warning people not to join the demonstrations and to go to work instead.