Thursday, September 14, 2006

Zim crushes nationwide protests

HARARE, 13 September (IRIN) - Police foiled a nationwide anti-government protest by the country's largest labour federation when they arrested union, civic society and opposition party leaders, among others.

A Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) spokesman in the capital, Harare, told IRIN that at least 500 people were taken into custody after protests were staged in 34 urban centres nationwide, including the capital and the second city, Bulawayo.

"We hear most of our leadership, including [secretary-general] Wellington Chibhebhe and [president] Lovemore Matombo have been arrested, together with others," said ZCTU regional spokesperson Percy Mcijo.

The authorities had warned the demonstrations were declared illegal and would be stopped. About 2,000 uniformed and plainclothes police were deployed on the capital's streets. An IRIN correspondent witnessed armed police severely beating demonstrators with batons after they had been ordered to sit down in the road at the starting point of the Harare protest.

Among other leaders arrested were Lucia Matibenga, a ZCTU vice-president and women's affairs chairperson of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, prominent MDC members Grace Kwinje and Ian Makoni, and the leader of the teachers' union, Raymond Majongwe. Mike Suburi, a correspondent with the Reuters news service, was also detained...

There were no reports of any fatalities during the protests.

ZCTU's demands include a living wage for workers, access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV-positive people, and that police immediately stop the "harassment of informal economy workers".

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