January 15, 2008

Election date set for March 29

Zimbabwe is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 29 March, the government has announced. While President Robert Mugabe has been confirmed as his party's candidate, the opposition is threatening to boycott the elections unless it gets guarantees they will be free and fair at talks with Mugabe's party. The MDC said that the latest violence went against the spirit of a promise made in December to relax tough security laws, which have been used to hinder opposition campaigns. Scores of Zimbabwean opposition supporters had been teargassed and beaten up by police during a protest march in Harare after a local magistrate had overruled a police order banning the march on 23 January.
The MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai had announced the 'Freedom Walk' protest march to demand pro-democracy reforms and free and fair elections, and to highlight the humanitarian crisis in the country. Tsvangirai was picked up from his house by the police early on 23 January and later released without being charged. Two other MDC officials, Paul Madzore, a member of parliament, and Elias Mudzuri, the party's organising secretary, were still in police custody when the rally ended later in the day. The opposition appealed against the ban at the Harare magistrate's court, which ruled that the rally could take place but should finish on the afternoon of 23 January. Riot police teargassed and beat up some of the more than 5.000 opposition supporters making their way to the venue, an open field close to the ruling Zanu PF party's headquarters in Harare. (Rts)

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