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Constitution conference suspended amid chaos


Latest update : 2009-07-13

Riot police have broken up a conference in Harare to draw up a new constitution for Zimbabwe after scuffles between rival delegations plunged the session into chaos.

REUTERS - A Zimbabwean conference to draw up a new constitution descended into chaos on Monday as riot police broke up clashes between rival delegates, underscoring the tensions within a unity government formed this year.

Police drove the delegates out of the venue and cordoned it off, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his old rival President Robert Mugabe met to discuss the disruption.

The conference is part of a process which should lead to the adoption of a new national constitution and fresh elections in about two years.

But the chaos reflected the divisions within the coalition government set up between President Robert Mugabe and old rival Morgan Tsvangirai in February to try to end political paralysis and reverse a decade of economic decline.

Zimbabweans hope a new charter, replacing one inked in 1979 before independence from Britain, will strengthen the role of parliament and curtail the president’s powers, as well as guaranteeing civil liberties and political and media freedom.

Trouble broke out between delegates from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF during an opening statement by the speaker of parliament.

Riot police drove them out of the conference venue. The police also sealed off the venue, keeping delegates out despite earlier indications that the conference would continue.

MDC lawmaker and co-chairperson on the parliamentary committee driving the constitutional reforms, Douglas Mwonzora, earlier told Reuters political leaders had agreed the conference would resume. Delegates had not reconvened by Monday afternoon.

“We cannot give in to hooliganism,” Mwonzora said.

In a statement, the MDC accused some ZANU-PF lawmakers and officials of organising youths to disrupt the constitutional conference.

“Judging by today’s events, ZANU-PF MPs (members of parliament) and the party’s delegates were clearly reading from a script whose sole agenda is to derail the constitution-making process,” the MDC said.

The conference, which was initially scheduled to be opened by Mugabe, with Tsvangirai also expected to speak, was mired in controversy and administrative glitches from the start. Some delegates could not be accredited on Sunday night and slept outside and it was running hours late even before the clashes.

When Zimbabwe speaker of the lower House of Assembly, Lovemore Moyo, from Tsvangirai’s MDC, got up to deliver his opening speech, he was drowned out by youths singing revolutionary songs and delegates heckling each other.

The youths were waving fists, a traditional symbol of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and singing the veteran leader’s praises.

MDC secretary general and Finance Minister Tendai Biti told reporters that his party would press on with the drive to write a new charter.

“Quite clearly, there are some people who don’t want a new constitution ... who view a constitution as an enemy to this country,” Biti said.



Date created : 2009-07-13