- Today is "D-Day" of the "final push" in the Zimbabwean opposition's mass action campaign against the regime of President Robert Mugabe. As giant protests are expected in all cities, there are concerns over a violent strike-back from the regime's police and army services.
The Zimbabwean opposition, led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is heading towards the culmination of the "action week" for democracy. Although large patrols of police and military had kept most Zimbabweans off the streets during the last days, the MDC and other groups consider the "action week" a great success so far. Especially the stayaways had gathered momentum.
MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube yesterday said he was happy about the successes so far. "In terms of our strategic targets this [week] has been very, very successful. Everything happened as per expectation ... we expected demonstrations would be broken up," he commented on the massive actions by Zimbabwean security forces.
- Our primary objective is for a total shutdown [today], Mr Ncube said. "Today [Thursday] and yesterday there were a few shops open because police were forcing them to open, but if [the police] are busy with demonstrations [on Friday] they will not be able to force people to open [their businesses]," the MDC spokesman continued.
The MDC in any way was to go ahead with today's action. "People will come in their thousands and we know they will be beaten and will run for their lives - no doubt the violence of the police will be unleashed on the people. But what happens [on Friday] is not the question, the question is what will ZANU-PF and the rest of the world do after that action?" asked Mr Ncube.
Also the underground group Zvakwana (Enough is Enough) hailed the stayaways and the demonstrations so far, urging Zimbabweans to join the "final push" today. The groups today said this had been the "most successful stayaway ever," adding that Zimbabweans were "sending a clear message to the Mugabe regime that we have the power and we are enough!"
Meanwhile, concerns are growing Zimbabwean security forces may repeat their hard-handed methods against protesters, displayed on Monday. Police had fired against and used tear gas against demonstrators, causing many injuries. Several hundred MDC leaders and supporters have also been detained.
The methods used by the Mugabe regime have caused protest and outrage both in Zimbabwe and internationally. The US State Department yesterday evening sent a sharp protest, condemning "the Zimbabwean government's suppression of its citizens' efforts to protest peacefully their country's economic collapse and human rights abuses."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the US called "on the government of Zimbabwe to allow peaceful protest, cease human rights abuses, reverse its disastrous economic policies, and restore the rule of law." The "ongoing wave of intolerance and brutality" was strongly condemned.
Throughout the week, police and army services have arrested hundreds of opposition supporters, often detaining them in squalid conditions without charge. Among those arrested have been several members of parliament and the Mayor of Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo. Many of those detained are being denied access to lawyers, families, medical care, and even food, according to the US government. The leader of the opposition was also briefly detained on 2 June.
Zimbabwean President Mugabe, meanwhile, has told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television news that the use of force against protestors was regrettable but necessary. "We regret using tear gas against Zimbabwe's youth, but it is necessary in order to maintain peace and stability in our country."
The allegations these protests were illegal were however forcefully denied by the MDC. The party's spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi, said on Wednesday the state had conceded no law were prohibiting the stayaways. This admission had been made by the Attorney-General's office in the treason trial against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
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