Mugabe's city crackdown leaves millions homeless

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The Independent Online

Nearly two million people in Zimbabwe's towns and cities have been left homeless, while a further 22,000 street traders have been arrested as Robert Mugabe intensified a crackdown on opposition strongholds.

Nearly two million people in Zimbabwe's towns and cities have been left homeless, while a further 22,000 street traders have been arrested as Robert Mugabe intensified a crackdown on opposition strongholds.

The 81-year-old President said bands of armed police - who have gone on the rampage in the past two weeks demolishing and burning down flea markets and other makeshift shop stalls, backyard shacks and informal settlements - are "cleaning up" the cities.

He also accused informal traders of involvement in the black market in foreign currency and other commodities in short supply.

Mr Mugabe's critics complain he is pursuing a relentless campaign to crush all dissent and pre-empt any uprising on the back of the economic slump by hitting the same urban areas that largely voted against him in March elections.

The crackdown is also seen as punishment for urban voters who have rejected Mr Mugabe's candidates in mayoral and parliamentary elections. He is mocked as "President of Zimbabwean rural areas". But such rhetoric is now outlawed under legislation meant to protect the "dignity of the president".

The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, appealed to the international community yesterday to intervene. "Overnight, Zimbabwe has been turned into a massive internal refugee centre, with between one and 1.5 million people displaced in Harare alone," Mr Tsvangirai said. "Property worth millions of dollars has gone up in flames. Families are out in the open without jobs, without shelter."

Human rights groups estimate the homeless could be more than two million if other centres affected by the crackdown are added.

Many of Harare's townships have resembled areas hit by a major earthquake. Even Harare's Siya So area, the bastion of home craft industries and informal trading in the past 30 years, was completely obliterated by police bulldozers.

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