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Marxist Mugabe Ruthlessly Stifles Dissent By: Geoff Hill
The Washington Times | Wednesday, June 04, 2003


The government of President Robert Mugabe battled a nationwide protest yesterday, arresting opposition leaders, beating demonstrators in the streets and firing volleys of tear gas and bullets to drive away protesters. 

But by the end of the day, streets of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, were deserted and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claimed victory on Day One of its latest campaign to drive Mr. Mugabe from power. 

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was detained for several hours yesterday and was charged with contempt of court for refusing to comply with a judge's order to call off the demonstrations. 

"The situation cannot go on like this," Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare after his release. "The people have to make their voice heard across the nation." 

Yesterday marked the beginning of a weeklong campaign, dubbed the "final push" by opposition officials, against both Mr. Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party (ZANU-PF), who have ruled the country for more than two decades. 

"The government may be in charge of the army and the police, but they no longer control the population," a Western diplomat said. 

A photographer for Reuters news agency in Harare saw police forcing about 50 people, some of them women, to lie on the street while they beat them with batons and homemade whips. 

The MDC said dozens of party officials and legislators had been arrested or assaulted yesterday. 

The MDC has conducted two national strikes in as many months and the effectiveness of their actions has cast doubt on the authority of Mr. Mugabe's government. 

On Sunday, the opposition ran advertisements in the country's few privately owned newspapers urging people to stay away from work for the coming week. 

Mr. Mugabe was returned to power last year in an election so marred by violence, fraud and intimidation that many Western countries, including Britain and the United States, refused to recognize the result. 

The MDC is demanding Mr. Mugabe's resignation and a rerun of the election under international supervision. 

Zimbabwe is facing the worst crisis in the country's history. There is a chronic shortage of staple foods, including corn meal, sugar and cooking oil, and the majority of gas stations have run dry. 

U.N. food agencies estimate that 70 percent of the country's 12 million people now live under conditions of famine, blamed by the opposition on a coercive land-reform program by Mr. Mugabe begun two years ago. 

The effort saw all but 300 of the country's 4,000 commercial farmers, most of them white, forced off their land with the promise that the farms would be given to landless blacks. 

In neighboring South Africa yesterday, more than 200 Zimbabwean exiles held a rally in Johannesburg calling on President Thabo Mbeki to take a hard line against Mr. Mugabe. 

Most of Zimbabwe's trade moves through South Africa, but the government in Pretoria has repeatedly said that it will not condone regime change in Harare. 

The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp., which reflects the views of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, described yesterday's protests as a flop, saying army and police patrols had maintained peace around the country. 




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