Potential Hot Spots: June 3, 2003


: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party face a solid week of anti-government protests. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has demanded that Mugabe resign, accusing him of mismanaging an economy in crisis, with record inflation and unemployment, shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency. Despite government threats to shut down on what it sees as an attempt to spur a coup d'etat, the MDC has vowed to proceed with five days of protests. 

Industrial areas were shut and many shops and businesses were closed. Early on the 2nd, the government showered central Harare with leaflets urging Zimbabweans to ignore the strike call: "No to mass action, no to violence, no to British puppets, no Rhodesian sell-outs, no to the MDC, enough is enough." The Zanu PF Politburo ordered opposition advertisements, warning President Robert Mugabe to go peacefully or else risk a violent overthrow, yanked off the air. The government had originally hoped that by allowing the advertisement to air, it would portray Tsvangirai as a reckless and uncaring opposition leader.

Police detained Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was told that he faced contempt of court charges for refusing to call off the demonstrations. This may be playing into the MDC's hands, since most people interviewed by the remaining free Zimbabwe press said for the street demonstrations to be successful, the MDC leadership needed to take "foremost roles in the mass action to show communion with the suffering populace". But the population is fed up with the government's inability to deal with a political and economic crisis now spiraled out of control.

Zimbabwean police fired tear gas and warning shots (live rounds) at 500 demonstrators in one township outside Harare. The protesters scattered and several were seen lying on the ground. Teargas was also fired at another crowd of about 6,000 University of Zimbabwe students attempting to march into the city center, who were driving back onto the campus. 

Beatings also were reported in the township of Mabvuku, where soldiers mistook shoppers at a fruit and vegetable stand for protesters and beat them with rifle butts. Military police searched the few cars headed out of the city center. 

Riot police bearing clubs stood watch in downtown Harare, while army trucks packed with soldiers and armored personnel carriers patrolled some capital suburbs. Soldiers downtown forced about 20 protesters to lie on the sidewalk where they beat them with rubber batons. Some cried out in pain, shouting, ``What have we done?'' 

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) recalled all of its officers on leave to their bases by 4pm on May 30th. Police officials claimed that they had been ordered to use "minimal force" against the demonstrators, to avoid international condemnation of the government's handling of the protests. However, recent history indicates that they have a proclivity for violence. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum released the "Torture by State Agents in Zimbabwe: January 2001 to August 2002" report earlier this year, documenting 36 cases of police brutality out of a total of 180 cases reported. Stay tuned, it should be an interesting week. - Adam Geibel


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