Govt jitters as MDC demo looms

BY GIFT PHIRI
HARARE - As the day of nationwide mass protest draws near, the government has gone into panic mode. Faced with the prospect of a crippling civil disobedience campaign following opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai's landmark march on Parliament last Friday, the Mugabe

regime has been desperately beefing up security in the capital and at government institutions.
Tsvangirai’s march was joined by several senior officials from the MDC and more than 500 afternoon shoppers. The police were caught flat-footed and failed to respond as the large group marched from the party’s Harvest House headquarters in central Harare to Parliament Building and back, brandishing placards demanding Mugabe’s exit.
With tensions rising throughout the country and many civic groups such as WOZA, the Combined Harare Residents Association, the National Constitutional Assembly and the labour movement all planning mass protests, the Joint Operations Command is in a flap.
Highly placed defence sources told The Zimbabwean that all strategic national areas such as government offices and fuel stations catering for state security vehicles would be heavily guarded because of fears that opposition party activists could tamper with them to immobilise the security forces.
They said the provincial JOC heads had been given strict orders to ensure that the protests did not turn violent, as any violence could be used by the MDC and foreign countries to justify international intervention.
“The provincial JOCs have been told that we should make no show of force because the MDC wants to use the ‘Sharpeville massacres trick’ to get international sympathy and possibly foreign intervention,” a senior police officer in Harare said. The CIO, according to well-placed sources here, is frantically trying to manufacture evidence pointing to a foreign hand in the organization of the planned mass action, whose timing and duration the MDC has still to announce.
The government has specifically accused Britain of being involved in the threatened strike, but London has rejected the charge as absurd.
State Security minister Didymus Mutasa alleged that the MDC was paying people to engage in the strike. He said adequate measures had been taken to prevent anarchy but could neither deny nor confirm that the army was also involved in the exercise.
The MDC has denied state media reports that it is funding youths to spearhead the strike.

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