Army mobilised to keep peace in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe preparing itself yesterday for a crippling and potentially violent national strike today to protest the failure of President Robert Mugabe's government to stop months of violence.

Zimbabwe preparing itself yesterday for a crippling and potentially violent national strike today to protest the failure of President Robert Mugabe's government to stop months of violence.

The one-day action is in protest against attacks on opposition supporters and the illegal occupation of white-owned farms by war veterans. The stay-away promises to be successful; more than 50 civic society groups had endorsed it by last night and several businesses had served notice they would be shut for the day.

Government sources said the entire Zimbabwe National Army and Airforce of Zimbabwe had been put on standby to disperse any strike gatherings.

The organisers scaled back the planned action yesterday, from three days to one. "We want to give the government time to respond. If it does not, we will go on a much longer strike," said Nicholas Mudzengerere, acting secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the strike's main sponsor.

The war veterans yesterday intensified their threats against farmers and farm workers. Dave Hasluck, the director of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), said somefarm workers had been threatened with death should they join the strike action. New occupations had also been reported in the province of Mashonaland, he said. "It is ironic that the war veterans have been disrupting and stopping farming activities and now that the farmers want to stop farming, they are then ordered by the same war veterans to go to work," Mr Hasluck said.

The CFU's president, Tim Henwood, said the organisation had been left with no alternative but to join the call for the restoration of law and order through the strike.

On Monday, the government officially confirmed reports it had identified more than 3,000 white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

Nkosana Moyo, the Minister of Industry and International Trade, said the strike would hurt Zimbabwe's limping economy. The ZCTU should have opted for dialogue with the government, he said.

A ZCTU spokesman meanwhile expressed his anger at the decision by South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, to visit Zimbabwe on the day of the strike, saying he should have postponed his visit. Mr Mbeki has been criticised for his open support for Mr Mugabe during the farm occupation crisis.

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