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Police block NCA protest

Gift Phiri

HEAVILY armed riot police yesterday broke up pro-democracy demonstrations in Harare, in a week filled with protests in which more than 55 activists were arrested.

ce=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a coalition of church, labour and civic rights groups, yesterday claimed 400 demonstrations cordoned off Nelson Mandela Avenue to denounce the proposed non-governmental organisations law. The NGO Bill was tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

The proposed law will prohibit NGOs from receiving foreign funding for projects related to human rights and governance. Three people were arrested during the protest which left parliament premises littered with protest material.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said “the activists were arrested for taking part in an illegal demonstration”.

Police also fought running battles with scores of women outside parliament on Tuesday after the activists presented a petition to the Speaker of the House opposing a clampdown on human rights groups. Three photographers, and 49 women – including one with a two-year-old child – were arrested. The photographers, Howard Burditt of Reuter, Tsvangirai Mkwazhi a freelancer and Desmond Kwande of the Sunday Mirror, were released on Wednesday without charge while the women were yesterday remanded out of custody to November 11.

“We have walked 440 kilometres to deliver this petition to parliament and hope and pray that you will hear our cries and not pass this Bill,” said the petition from the women, most of whom are members of Bulawayo-based Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

“If the Bill is passed in its current form, it will strike at the very existence of us and our families. We do try to survive independently but without help from NGOs, our families and those of us who are ill shall surely fade away and die,” said the petition, which was also backed by Aids support groups.

The Post Independence Survivors Trust, in a petition presented to the Speaker, urged government to withdraw the Bill saying it was “patently unconstitutional, undemocratic and therefore undesirable in a democratic country”.

Civic society representatives from the Combined Harare Residents Association, the National Association for NGOs, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, and Human Rights NGO Forum were barred entry into parliament for the first reading of the bill by police details guarding the entrance on Wednesday.

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