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Militias Block Zimbabwe Opposition Rally, Party Says

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Associated Press
Monday, June 9, 2008; Page A14

HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 8 -- Opposition officials accused ruling party militias of preventing their party from holding a rally in a suburb of the capital Sunday, a day after a court lifted a ban on opposition gatherings.

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Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa said President Robert Mugabe's supporters cordoned off the area where opposition leaders were to speak, forcing the opposition to cancel the rally.

Two other gatherings went ahead as planned in Harare, Chamisa said.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai faces Mugabe in a runoff set for June 27. Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round in March, but not enough to avoid a deciding vote.

Independent human rights groups say opposition supporters have been beaten and killed by government and ruling party thugs to ensure that Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, wins the second round.

The opposition says at least 60 of its supporters have been killed in the past two months. Tsvangirai, who has been the target of at least three assassination attempts, left Zimbabwe after the March vote but returned in late May to campaign for the runoff.

On Sunday, Tsvangirai was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, and also made a surprise visit to a small rally in Kwekwe, where he urged supporters to vote, the party said in a statement.

"The people have already won. The coming election would only reaffirm this victory," Tsvangirai said. "Zimbabweans would resoundingly defeat the regime and begin a new life with hope of a better Zimbabwe."

In Bulawayo, the opposition said that police in riot gear and on bicycles attacked a team of four party members who were putting up election campaign posters.

The police assaulted the MDC members with batons, the party said, adding that one person suffered a broken leg and was admitted to a hospital.

Comment from the police was not immediately available.

Also Sunday, a court ordered police to release opposition lawmaker Eric Matinenga, who was taken from his home Saturday and detained at a station outside the capital. He was accused of fomenting violence, lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said.

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