Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested and freed two hours later in southern Zimbabwe.The nation has ousted all NGOs ahead of the second round of the presidential elections, due on June 27. (Report:S. Silke)
Zimbabwean police detained opposition chief Morgan Tsvangirai for the second time in three days Friday as aid agencies expressed outrage at a ban on them working in the stricken country. He was held for nearly two hours then freed without charge.
Armed officers escorted Tsvangirai to a police station after he ignored orders not to campaign ahead of a presidential run-off, his party's chairman said.
"We have been instructed to go back to Esigodini police station," Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party chairman Lovemore Moyo told AFP by phone while travelling with Tsvnagirai to the station.
"The police are saying they had told us initially not to proceed as they are saying all the rallies have been cancelled."
At least two police armed with AK rifles escorted Tsvangirai and his entourage to the station, Moyo and witnesses said.
After arriving, police first called in local lawmaker Nomalanga Khumalo while the others waited outside.
Tsvangirai, who faces President Robert Mugabe in the June 27 vote, was held for nearly nine hours on Wednesday by police before they released him without charge.
The opposition leader's latest run-in with authorities came as Mugabe's government said aid groups would only be allowed to resume operations if they pledged not to interfere in politics.
The government has accused them of openly siding with the opposition in the build-up to the ballot.
It also follows a confrontation between police and US and British diplomats at a roadblock on Thursday.
The authorities accused the diplomats, whose detention triggered a furious response from Washington and London, of behaving like "common criminals" by refusing to cooperate with police.
In a country beset by food shortages, aid agencies now play a major role in supplying and distributing staples such as maize and cooking oil.
Relations between Western charities and the Mugabe regime have long been strained, with the government previously forcing aid groups to channel their efforts through local officials.
However, the order to cease all field work marks a dramatic downturn in the relationship.
"As we speak there are no NGOs. All NGOs have been asked to reapply for registration," Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told AFP.
"They were involved in political activities and behaving like political parties when they were supposed to complement government efforts.
"As it appears that they veered from their normal work, we want them to clearly state what they intend to do, so that they will be bound by that."
Save The Children spokesman Dominic Nutt said the group was "seriously concerned ... particularly for the most vulnerable children who we work with and who need our help."
The United Nations warned that its programmes in Zimbabwe would be hit by the ban, and EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel called for the suspension to be lifted immediately.
The opposition party said it was ridiculous to blame aid groups for the government's unpopularity.
The MDC wrested control of parliament from ZANU-PF in a joint legislative and presidential election on March 29 in which Mugabe suffered the biggest blow to his authority since taking power at independence in 1980.
Tsvangirai fell just two percentage points of winning an outright majority in the March 29 poll.
As well as accusing aid groups of anti-government bias, Mugabe's administration has frequently accused the United States, former colonial power Britain and other Western powers of siding with the opposition.
Mugabe accused the West of trying to "effect illegal regime change" during a speech at a UN food summit earlier this week.
According to Matonga, the detention of the diplomats on Thursday came after they had attended a gathering at the home of an MDC activist in the Bindura area, to the north of Harare.
Although it appeared two vehicles managed to flee the roadblock, US ambassador James McGee said one of the cars in the convoy had its tires slashed and threats were issued to set it alight.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "the situation in Zimbabwe is really quite difficult and quite grave" ahead of the run-off election.
Date created : 2008-06-06