May 27, 2005

Police arrest 10.000 during "operation restore order"

Zimbabwean security forces have stepped up their crackdown on informal traders and vendors, triggering fierce clashes with residents of some poor Harare townships. Heavily armed police intensified their campaign across Harare, destroying informal trading stalls, tuck-shop tables and shebeens. The raid has, according to Business Day, so far arrested more than 10.000 impoverished city residents. Police continued to seize more foreign currency and a variety of merchandise from black market dealers selling fuel and other basic commodities, including salt, washing powder and soap.
According to the Mail & The Guardian, the police swoop code-named "Operation Restore Order" has arrested 17.000 people countrywide by the razing of "illegal structures". Those arrested have been fined or taken to court. People living in shacks have been given a three-month ultimatum, which expires on July 31, to demolish their structures and move away. As state television has broadcast, the Zimbabwean government had deployed 3.000 paramilitary police to demolish illegal settlements around Harare. The television news showed a parade of hundreds of officers in full riot gear preparing to be deployed to demolish 25 illegal settlements in and around the capital. Footage showed a bulldozer demolishing a house in one illegal housing settlement, the Nyadzonia Housing Co-operative, whose owner "chose to ignore the warnings", the television said. A police officer urged people living in illegal settlements to pack up and leave before police demolition squads arrived. "We would encourage everybody to pack their own property, their clothing, their furniture before the police arrive," he said.
Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo also said that after the deadline expired police would move in and knock down the makeshift structures themselves. More than a million people are expected to be rendered homeless by the move. The chairperson of the Harare Commission, which is running the city's affairs, Sekesai Makwavarara, said that the crackdown would be widened to cover other areas. These included such areas as "vandalism of property, commuter ranks, prostitution, and illegal cultivation".
Resistance to the forced removals has increased over the past few days, like clashes between the security forces and residents that escalated particularly at Glen Norah's Mkomva shopping centre. Policemen were also attacked by angry residents at Chitungwiza. (Business Day, Johannesburg / The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg)


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