With political tension rising in Zimbabwe, the country's largest political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, held a rally in its Harare stronghold Saturday. Attendance at the event was unusually poor.
The MDC said a “star” rally was to be held on Saturday at a well-known venue, though police only gave them permission at the last minute. MDC “star” rallies in Harare usually attract many thousands of people.
This gathering would have been addressed by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is also prime minister in the inclusive government.
However, only a small crowd watched by many riot police turned up for the rally. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the event and did not appear.
Many blamed the poor attendance on the large police presence, coupled with arrests in Harare’s western townships last week. Police arrested about 25 people in connection with the death of a policeman.
MDC members like John Cassim said party supporters felt intimidated.
“The rally was not successful in as much as the MDC was expecting because the police were intimidating the leadership and they cleared the meeting late, Friday night, and it was very difficult for the party to mobilize to come and gather at the same place, so people were afraid to come," said Cassim.
Half of those arrested last week were released, but ten of the 12 people now facing charges of killing a policeman told the Harare Magistrate's Court last Friday they were were assaulted in detention and four of them had visible injuries.
Assistant commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said Monday six more people were arrested at the weekend, bringing the total to 18 being held in connection with the policeman's death. He said he did not know if any more people would be arrested as investigations were continuing.
In another development, MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora says a small explosion occurred outside MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti’s house at the weekend. Biti is finance minister in the inclusive government.
Many MDC members on the streets of Harare say they do not feel safe enough to attend public party meetings any longer. They say they feel the political space is closing.
The MDC is part of a power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. But security forces allied to ZANU-PF have been arresting MDC leaders and blocking MDC rallies.
Some ZANU-PF members are insisting on elections this year with an eye to reclaiming control of parliament, which the party lost to the MDC in 2008. The MDC has insisted the parties first finish drafting a new constitution, as stipulated in the 2008 agreement that led to formation of the current government.