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Zimbabwe Dissident Held, Charged With Treason

June 07, 2003|From Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police arrested Zimbabwe's main opposition leader and charged him with treason Friday as hundreds of security forces took control of the streets of the capital and prevented marches demanding the resignation of President Robert Mugabe.

Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested just after he vowed to continue protests.

"From now onwards we will embark on rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice and without any warning to the dictatorship," he told reporters. "More action is certainly on the way."

But Tsvangirai acknowledged that the security crackdown had thwarted huge street demonstrations that his opposition movement had planned for Friday to cap five days of strikes and protests.

Government forces have resorted to beating protesters, firing warning shots in the air and opening fire with water cannons and tear gas to break up demonstrations this week. The strikes have brought the battered economy to a halt as the opposition challenges Mugabe's 23-year authoritarian rule.

Before Friday's planned marches, soldiers, police and ruling-party militiamen flooded the capital in possibly the largest security operation since independence in 1980. Military helicopters swooped over Harare's skies, while military vehicles ferried troops through the city and police cars patrolled the streets.

Hundreds of ruling-party backers occupied Harare's main square, where opposition leaders had called on their supporters to gather. A few opposition attempts to convene in the streets quickly fizzled.

Treason can carry a death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai already is on trial on a separate treason charge that accuses him of plotting to assassinate Mugabe. Tsvangirai and two other opposition officials on trial with him say they have been framed.

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