Police disrupt Tsvangirai's meeting

HARARE - Tension in the unity government yesterday reached new levels with police in riot gear blocking Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai from carrying out a “yes vote” campaign in Highfield.

More than 40 police officers armed to the teeth said Tsvangirai could not carry out the draft constitution publicity campaign since he had not obtained police clearance.

Tsvangirai and his bitter political rival Zanu PF leader President Robert Mugabe have agreed to adopt a new constitution which was written by their respective parties and will be tested in a referendum on March 16.

A “yes vote” is widely expected to succeed since both Zanu PF and MDC are agreed on its adoption and have been campaigning together in a blitz launched a week ago.

Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka, told the Daily News that police had received a letter of the scheduled meeting from the Prime Minister’s office.

MDC organising secretary, Nelson Chamisa, was engaged for more than 30 minutes with the police in a serious discussion that failed to sway the law enforcement agents who claimed to be taking orders from higher authorities.

Agitated that the crowd was taking long to disperse, police gave the MDC leadership five minutes to disperse the people gathered in and around Zimbabwe Hall.

An exasperated Chamisa broke the news to the gathering in the overflowing hall that “police were not allowing the prime minister to address them” notwithstanding the fact that it was a government programme.

“We have an unhealthy situation here where the police have ordered that we must disperse. They insist that they did not clear the meeting even when we are convinced that all we needed to do was to notify them like we did,” Chamisa told the shocked multitude.

Chamisa who is also the minister of Information and Technology in a coalition government formed four years ago, between bitter rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai, said there was need to educate the law enforcement agents on people’s freedoms.

“I had to restrain the police from throwing tear gas into this hall. Maybe there is need to educate them on the law, but it goes to show that we are not yet ready for elections as a country. This was merely about the constitution which all of us including Zanu PF are supporting and one wonders what the situation would be like if it were an election” Chamisa said.

 In a sign of how Zanu PF is girding for an election that is likely to be the fiercest-fought since independence in 1980, police apart from banning radios have also been targeting non-governmental organisations and launching a crackdown that many fear is a sign of difficult times ahead.

Police have also promised to arrest civil society leaders who distribute portable radios which use solar power while recipients will also be in the line of fire.

The hiatus brought by the unity government for four years is now wearing thin as elections beckon.  

An exasperated MDC has already dispatched a team to Sadc to inform the regional body—guarantors of the coalition government—of a throwback to 2008.

“This is a clear sign that the leopard has not changed its spots.

A letter was written to the police commissioner. And if police are banning the Prime Minister from carrying out a programme that Zanu PF agrees to, what will happen after the referendum. This is a signal of worse things to come,” said Tamborinyoka.

MDC’s Harare spokesperson, Obert Gutu said they had to disperse otherwise people would have been killed in a stampede as police threatened to throw teargas in the packed hall.

“We were given two options either to disperse in five minutes or not to which would have resulted in police throwing in teargas. As the leadership, we figured that if we did not comply it could have resulted in a stampede. These are tell-tale signs of worse things to come,” said Gutu. - Staff Writer

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