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Court allows opposition rallies ahead of runoff

Latest update : 2008-06-08

A Zimbabwe court ruled that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be permitted to hold rallies in the capital Harare, after police repeatedly moved in to disrupt opposition rallies.

A Zimbabwe court ruled Saturday police could not ban opposition rallies in Harare, but a tax on foreign newspapers and a lawmaker's arrest added to signs of a pre-election crackdown by authorities.
   
The court ruling came a day after police halted opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's campaign to topple President Robert Mugabe's 28-year rule over the impoverished southern African nation in a June 27 run-off.
   
The authorities have also ordered non-governmental aid organisations to stop work in the country, sparking widespread international condemnation.
   
The opposition had filed papers with the high court in Harare late Friday after police denied it authorisation to stage rallies in several townships of the capital.
   
"The judge ordered the rallies be allowed and that the police should not interrupt the rallies," said Charles Kwaramba, a lawyer for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
   
The MDC has so far been able to stage only a handful of rallies and Tsvangirai was detained twice by police this week. It draws much of its support from township areas of Harare.
   
According to a letter signed by a superintendent of police, a copy of which was read to AFP, authorities based their decision to bar the Harare rallies on MDC statements concerning assassination threats.
   
"The MDC has communicated far and wide, very loudly for that matter, that the lives of some of your politicians are under severe threat from targeted assassination," the letter said.
   
"Our continued investigations so far have failed to confirm your party's allegations but still we are not prepared to take any chances by exposing you to the public who may be possible assassins."
   
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa welcomed the ruling but said the party should not have been forced to resort to court action.
   
"Why should we go to the high court each time we want to meet our supporters?" he told AFP. "The rallies are going ahead as scheduled except for the ones which were supposed to be held today."
   
Police meanwhile arrested MDC lawmaker Eric Matinenga Saturday on accusations of "incitement to public violence," despite a court dismissing the same case against him just two days before.
   
Police suspected him of paying opposition activists accused of attacking supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
   
A report in the state-run Herald newspaper said the new duties on imported print media followed concerns by Mugabe's government over "the flood of hostile foreign newspapers coming into Zimbabwe."
   
The government now considered foreign newspapers and magazines luxury items and would slap an import duty of 40 percent of the total cost per kilogram on them, the Herald said.
   
Zimbabwe has two dailies, both controlled by the government, and no private radio or television stations.
   
For an alternative to the official line most people turn to pirate radio stations and regional newspapers -- mostly from South Africa -- as well as magazines that carry stories about Zimbabwe.
   
Twenty-eight other MDC and eight ZANU-PF supporters have meanwhile been arrested over the discovery of a cache of weapons, the Herald said Saturday.
   
The government provoked further international outrage this week by suspending all aid work in the country after accusing some NGOs of siding with the opposition ahead of the vote.
   
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.
   
The United Nations warned that its programmes in Zimbabwe would be hit by the ban.
   
Violence has also mounted in the run up to the vote, with the MDC saying around 60 of its supporters have been killed by pro-Mugabe militias.
   
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first-round poll, but officially with a vote total just short of the outright majority needed to win the presidency.
   

Date created : 2008-06-08

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