One person was killed, a number injured and over 35 arrested in Harare yesterday (Sunday 11 March 2007) after hundreds of armed riot police used shotguns and teargas to shut down a prayer meeting about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.
Church and civil society groups were among the organisers of the event. The emphasis on prayer was partly a way of trying to avoid the current ban on public demonstrations against the rule of President Robert Mugabe.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was among those arrested by police, along with Lovemore Madhuku, who runs Zimbabwe's largest civic organization, the National Constitutional Assembly.
Organisers of the prayer meeting decided to go ahead with the rally despite police warnings on Saturday that it would not be permitted. Different groups united under the banner of the "Save Zimbabwe Campaign."
They stressed that the gathering in the Highfield area was a patriotic event concerned with the future of the nation. But predictably the authorities took a different view.
There is growing unrest across Zimbabwe, especially in urban areas. The nation’s annual rate of inflation now exceeds 1,700 per cent. Many basic foods and commodities are either not available or are far too expensive for average citizens.
Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer who for some of those seized, told reporters that at least 200 people were in the streets of Highfield before the arrests and that an unknown number of others were “roughed up” by the police as they tried to enter the protest zone.
Meanwhile, in London, UK, more than a thousand campaigners gathered for a rally in support of human rights in Zimbabwe. Organised by Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), the gathering brought together Zimbabweans living in the UK, Catholic and other justice and peace groups, and human rights activists.