Zimbabwe's union chiefs arrested in nationwide swoop across country

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The Independent Online

The leadership of Zimbabwe's labour movement and dozens of people suspected of organising anti-government demonstrations were arrested yesterday by President Robert Mugabe's police.

Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and his secretary general, Wellington Chibebe, were among 41 leaders held.

Lucy Gwiyo, the wife of Mr Chibebe's deputy, Collin Gwiyo, said her husband told her on the phone that all the trade union leaders had been arrested at Harare's Quality International Hotel as they prepared to lead a peaceful protest against fuel and transport hikes, tax increases and a dwindling supply of cash.

"He has diverted his calls to my cell phone because he is in jail," she said. "He says they they are being charged with organising an illegal demonstration."

Dozens of other trade union members were arrested around the country as they tried to stage a peaceful protest at Zimbabwe's 700 per cent inflation, economic hardships and human rights abuses.

A police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, said about 50 people had been arrested in Harare as they tried to join the planned marches, though the figure is believed to be much more. In the second city, Bulawayo, hundreds of workers were tear-gassed as they tried to assemble for the protests.

The ZCTU had been quietly organising word-of-mouth protests, hoping to avoid police attention. Those arrested now face charges under the draconian Public Order and Security Act of organising or taking part in an "illegal" demonstration. Gatherings of as few as five people can constitute an illegal protest in Zimbabwe.

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