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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
'Slow start' for Zimbabwe strike
A stall burns after being set on fire by the police in the Harare suburb of Glen View
People have been evicted and their buildings destroyed
A two-day opposition general strike in Zimbabwe in protest against a wave of arrests and demolitions has got off to a slow start, reports say.

Correspondents in the capital, Harare, say that although early morning traffic was lighter than usual, most businesses are open, as are schools and shops.

Security is reportedly tight, with a heavy police presence in poor areas.

At the state opening of parliament, President Robert Mugabe defended the "vigorous clean-up campaign".

'Cyber-terrorism'

"The current chaotic state of affairs where small to medium scale enterprises operated outside the regulatory framework and in undesignated and crime-ridden areas could not be countenanced much longer," he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It's high time someone knocked some sense into the leaders of Zimbabwe, both ruling and opposition
Nash, Harare, Zimbabwe

As part of the strike, opposition MPs boycotted Mr Mugabe's speech.

The president also promised "to deal with the emergence of more sophisticated forms of corruption and crimes such as electronic money laundering, electronic funds transfer fraud, dissemination of offensive materials and even cyber-terrorism."

The new parliament is expected to introduce constitutional changes, including the reintroduction of an upper house of parliament, which correspondents say are aimed at strengthening his grip on power.

Punishment threat

Correspondents say the usual rush hour traffic in Harare was far lighter than normal and there are reports that while many factories are open, up to half their workers have stayed at home.

President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe defended the 'vigorous clean-up campaign'

The situation seems to be the same in the second city of Bulawayo, where normally busy shopping areas are quiet.

The government has put on a show of force - with military helicopters clattering overhead - leaving people in no doubt that those who do strike could face punishment, he says.

Police have warned they will deal "ruthlessly" with any street protests.

The strike comes in response to a crackdown in which police say 30,000 people were detained, while thousands of homes and businesses have been demolished and as many as 200,000 made homeless.

The government says the demolitions are necessary to clean up Zimbabwe's urban areas and crack down on those involved in illegally trading foreign currency and scarce foodstuffs, such as sugar.

'New apartheid'

The sweep has been heavily criticised by church groups and opposition parties, which have combined to form the "Broad Alliance" and call the strike.

They say the crackdown is aimed at driving opposition supporters back to rural areas, where they have less influence.

The UN has demanded that Mr Mugabe stop the eviction operation, which it describes as a new form of "apartheid".

The UN Human Rights Commission estimates that up to 200,000 people may have been made homeless by the operation.

BBC southern Africa correspondent Barnaby Phillips says Zimbabwe is set for another test of strength between an embattled opposition and a repressive government.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Scenes from Zimbabwe as houses are demolished



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