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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 21:26 GMT 22:26 UK
Zimbabwe strike 'poorly observed'
Harare's industrial area
It was not the mass stay-away union leaders had wanted
A two-day strike called by Zimbabwe's trade unions in protest against the country's worsening economic crisis has been poorly observed on its first day.

The capital was slightly quieter than usual, but many shops and offices were open in the capital, Harare.

Correspondents say few people can afford to lose even a day's pay.

President Robert Mugabe had condemned the stoppage as part of a plot by the opposition to oust him and promised tough action against any open protests.

More than 80% of Zimbabweans live in poverty and inflation is running at more than 1,700% - the highest in the world.

The BBC's Peter Greste says with inflation so high and four out of five workers without a job, there is plenty to complain about, but opponents of President Mugabe are both broke and scared.

Images of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was savagely beaten the last time anyone tried to mount a protest, are still fresh in the minds of many Zimbabweans, our correspondent adds.

'Only solution'

In anticipation of the strike, military helicopters were deployed over Harare on Tuesday while riot police patrolled the city centre.

I understand what the ZCTU is trying to do for us ... but things are so hard I cannot afford to lose this job
Dickson Mapara
Zimbabwean factory worker

Zimbabwe's main trade union, the Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU), said that given the level of intimidation the stoppage had been a success.

However, the government described the first day of the general strike as a flop.

"It was a dismal failure, not just a failure but a dismal failure... because people are going about their work freely as if there was no call for a stay-away," said Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu.

Zimbabwe's trade union movement said it called the general strike over the government's failure to respond to the economic meltdown and was pushing for wage rises.

"This ... is the only solution to make sure that the authorities should come back to the negotiating table," ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo said. "We are quite aware of what the government is likely to do."

A clothing factory worker in Harare told Reuters news agency that workers feared losing their jobs if they went on strike.

"I understand what the ZCTU is trying to do for us ... but things are so hard I cannot afford to lose this job, and although I get very little, I cannot afford to get nothing at all," Dickson Mapara said.

No regime change

Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki says he wants to promote a compromise between rival factions in Zimbabwe but would not push for regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
Mr Mbeki said he would not cut power supplies to Zimbabwe

Mr Mbeki told the UK's Financial Times that there was no big stick available to change the government in Harare but there was a need to tackle Zimbabwe's elections.

"We have to get the Zimbabweans talking so we do have elections that are free and fair," he said.

Southern African leaders last week appointed Mr Mbeki to mediate between Mr Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

On Saturday, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said nine members of his party had been badly beaten up in custody after being arrested.

Last week, Zanu-PF announced that Mr Mugabe would be its candidate in next year's election, letting the president stay in power until 2013, when he would be nearly 90.


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Unions march against Zimbabwe in Johannesburg



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