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Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Saturday, 7 June 2008 18:28 UK

Court 'lifts Zimbabwe rally ban'

Morgan Tsvangirai campaigns in Esigodini on 6 June
Mr Tsvangirai was stopped from campaigning on Friday

Zimbabwe's High Court has overturned a police ban on opposition campaign rallies this weekend, according to an opposition spokesman in Harare.

Previous court rulings were apparently ignored by the authorities, who have repeatedly hindered presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai's campaign.

The opposition MDC went to court after police on Friday denied approval for events around the capital, Harare.

Mr Tsvangirai is standing against Robert Mugabe on 27 June.

Aid agencies have been pulling staff out of rural areas of Zimbabwe since Mr Mugabe's government froze all aid agency field operations.

The government has accused the agencies of campaigning for the opposition.

It is not clear yet how the reported court ruling will affect the opposition's campaign in other areas of the country, the BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from neighbouring South Africa.

The police ban on MDC political rallies had been roundly criticised outside Zimbabwe with South Africa's ruling ANC party saying it was critically important that all candidates should be able to campaign freely, she adds.

'Possible assassins'

Announcing the court verdict, MDC lawyer Charles Kwaramba said: "The effect of the order is to allow MDC rallies to proceed.

"The order simply says that police should not interfere with the MDC rallies."

On Friday, police banned "several future rallies" after briefly detaining Mr Tsvangirai ahead of a rally in the second-largest city Bulawayo.

The length or extent of the ban, which cited fears for MDC members' safety, was not made clear.

Police sent a letter to the MDC informing them of the ban.

According to AFP news agency, the letter read:

"The MDC has communicated far and wide, very loudly for that matter, that the lives of some of your politicians are under severe threat from targeted assassination.

"Our continued investigations so far have failed to confirm your party's allegations but still we are not prepared to take any chances by exposing you to the public who may be possible assassins."

'Vulnerable people'

The UN believes that two million people, particularly children, will be at greater risk as a result of the freeze on aid work.

Aid groups believe the government does not want them out in the rural areas witnessing what is happening or feeding the hungry when the government can use food to buy votes, our correspondent says.

One aid worker told the BBC she had met opposition supporters who had had their ID cards taken away and their hands injured so they could not vote.

Mr Mugabe is widely accused of economic mismanagement resulting in runaway inflation, soaring unemployment and the decline of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector, although he blames a Western conspiracy for the country's crisis.

With drought and failed harvests further reducing food supplies, aid agencies fear a rise in hunger.

Oxfam's international programme director, Penny Lawrence, told the BBC:

"A lot of vulnerable people are very reliant on food aid and they don't have anything else to eat."

Map of food shortages in Zimbabwe


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