Saturday, May 20, 2006


Zimbabwe faction leader arrested

Arthur Mutambara returned to Zimbabwe in February. The leader of one faction of Zimbabwe's main opposition party has been arrested while campaigning for a by-election in the capital, Harare, his party says. An MP and four officials of Arthur Mutambara's wing of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were also detained, party officials said. Both MDC factions are fielding candidates in Saturday's election in what was an opposition stronghold. Meanwhile, trade unions are considering calling a series of general strikes. Leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions are meeting to decide on what action to take after the failure of five-month talks with the government to protect wages in a country where annual inflation is more than 1,000%.

Under tough security laws, the police must give permission for all demonstrations, and protests by groups not allied to the governing Zanu-PF party are rarely authorised. But Mr Mutambara's spokesman Maxwell Zimuto said the police had given the go-ahead for the march, which the party had agreed to delay until after a rally by President Robert Mugabe.

Protests and strikes are banned in Zimbabwe"We were surprised when we were intercepted and driven into the police station," Mr Zimuto told the AFP news agency. The by-election in the Harare suburb of Budiriro follows the death of MDC MP Gilbert Mutimutema Shoko. Mr Mutambara was elected earlier this year to lead one faction of the MDC, after the party split last year. This is the first time he has been arrested since his return to Zimbabwe in February. On Thursday, police arrested about 100 people marking the anniversary of last year's slum clearance programme, in which the UN says some 700,000 people lost either their homes or their jobs.

The ZCTU's Collin Gwiyo told the BBC's Network Africa programme that police had also sent home trade unionists from Ghana and South Africa who had planned to join their two-day meeting. He said the union, which represents 30 worker organisations with 1m members, was struggling for workers to receive "a living wage which is linked to the galloping inflation". Independent estimates put the level of unemployment at 80%, whereas official figures say it is less than 10%. The country is suffering from chronic shortages of basic goods and fuel. The opposition says Mr Mugabe's economic mismanagement has destroyed what was once one of Africa's most vibrant economies. Mr Mugabe blames the economic problems on sabotage by western nations opposed to his policy of land redistribution.


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