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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 01:22 GMT
Britons arrested in Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans queue to cast their votes in rural Magunje, west of Harare
Hotly-contested elections are taking place
Two British nationals have been arrested in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

Tension is high in the southern African country, where a presidential election has been taking place over the weekend.

The arrests were made in the eastern border town of Ruda on Friday evening, according to the Foreign Office.

It said it was in touch with a local lawyer who was trying to gain access to the two, while the British High Commission was monitoring the situation closely.

President Robert Mugabe at an election rally
President Mugabe has outlawed illegal gatherings
It is thought the Britons are residents of the country, rather than tourists.

The Foreign Office said details of the arrests were unclear.

A spokeswoman for the British High Commission said the two were among several people arrested at a gathering of about 100 people.

The AP news agency said the Britons had been accused of attending an illegal gathering.

Reuters said the two had been arrested along with two Americans for carrying illegal radio equipment.

'Causing disturbances'

Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo appeared on state television accusing the two Britons and two Americans of seeking to disrupt the election.

Mr Nkomo said their equipment used police frequencies.

"The men were armed with security equipment. They are working to cause disturbances, to disrupt the elections," he said.

A US embassy spokesman confirmed the arrest of one American for attending an illegal gathering. He said he was not aware of a second arrest.

The independent Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum said at least 58 people, including two Britons and two Americans, had been arrested by police between Friday night and Sunday morning.

They included 11 white farmers and were mostly supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Political violence

In January Zimbabwe's government passed new security laws, making it illegal to hold public gatherings without a permit.

The MDC said the move was aimed at making it difficult for the opposition to campaign.

Both the run-up to the elections and the polling itself have been marred by violence, mainly blamed on the incumbent President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

This hotly-contested election sees the first serious challenge to Mr Mugabe since he led the country to independence from Britain in 1980.

There are an estimated 40,000 British passport-holders living in Zimbabwe, of whom about 25,000 are registered with the British High Commission.


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See also:

10 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe vote extended
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