Zimbabwe vows to crush anti-government demonstrations
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - Zimbabwe braced for anti-government demonstrations Monday that authorities said were illegal and would be crushed. State television, in its nightly news Sunday, said planned demonstrations and strikes this week called by the main opposition will be "met with the full wrath of the law.''
It said ruling party youths loyal to the government would break up opposition street demonstrations and quoted Defense Minister Sidney Sekeramayi as saying "enough measures'' were being taken to stop anti-government unrest.
"Our soil is very sacrosanct. We shall not allow it to be recolonized,'' Sekeramayi told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp.
The government has repeatedly accused Britain, the former colonial ruler, of funding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and opposition-backed labor unions to mount a campaign to oust longtime ruler President Robert Mugabe.
The television showed footage of troops and riot police being deployed in Harare, the capital, and file footage of tear gas being fired on demonstrators in previous protests.
Government vehicles sped through Harare late Sunday throwing out printed fliers urging Zimbabweans to ignore opposition calls for the protests, saying: "No to mass action. No to British puppets. Let the workers go to work, let the children go to school and let the banks and businesses remain open. Remain strong.''
It was the first time the government distributed political fliers that littered the streets, with few being picked up by passers-by.
Armored vehicles and troops carriers headed into Harare Sunday from their base at Inkomo barracks, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Harare.
State television quoted Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo saying business owners who supported the protests by shutting out their workers will have their operating licenses withdrawn and be forced to close.
"They are playing a risky game. They must be ready to shut permanently,'' he said.
The government's response to the opposition calls for protests across the country beginning Monday was seen as unusually forthright and a desperate effort, tinged with panic, to pre-empt the biggest challenge to its rule, analysts said.
The opposition says it wants Mugabe to negotiate on the nation's deepening political and economic crisis and agree to step down so new presidential elections can be held.
In weekend advertisements headed "Countdown to the final push,'' the opposition said: "Any thought of the dictator giving up power quietly is sheer delusion. The Zimbabweans story begins to unfold _ sadly, in our streets. We are now ready to go. The end is now in sight.''
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence with record inflation of 269 percent and acute shortages of hard currency, local money, gasoline, medicines and other essential imports and food.
Only international food aid has averted mass starvation.
The government alleged Saturday the opposition was planning a coup to oust Mugabe through the demonstrations and strikes. It said labor unions were planning to shut down power and telecommunications to cause chaos.
Stores and supermarkets reported panic buying of food and provisions during the weekend that compared to the traditional rush by shoppers ahead of Christmas and other holidays.
As the nation tensely awaited a showdown between the government and the opposition, Harare residents raced to their homes Saturday during a fireworks display at the opening of a new revivalist church, fearing the firecrackers and rockets were gun and mortar fire by military mutineers ahead of the anti-government protests. - AP