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Zimbabwe police blame error for crackdown on PM's rally

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Zimbabwe police on Wednesday said bungled communication led to armed riot police blocking a rally by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba told AFP "there was communication break-down" between the police and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

"The notice to hold the meeting was given through the minister to the commissioner general instead of the officer commanding the district."

"That issue has been rectified."

Riot police blocked an address Tuesday by Tsvangirai whose uneasy unity rule with President Robert Mugabe is set to end with a fresh vote in months.

"Riot police have just disrupted a community meeting I was due to address," Tsvangirai tweeted on Tuesday night. "Their actions today show that the leopard has not changed colours."

A pick-up truck loaded with helmet-clad police officers carrying riot shields and batons could be seen in pictures posted on Tsvangirai's Facebook page.

Charamba said according to the Public Order and Security Act anyone who wants to hold public meetings must notify the police who can decide whether the meeting can go ahead.

Tsvangirai's meeting was set to start at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) in the capital on Tuesday, but around 20 riot police ordered people to leave the meeting before it had started.

Zimbabwe's security forces are seen as loyal to Mugabe who shares power with Tsvangirai in an uneasy unity government that was uneasily formed after chaotic polls in 2008.

Zimbabweans will vote on March 16 in a draft referendum which is set to pave the way for fairer elections.

Fresh polls are set for July to steer Zimbabwe onto a new track after a series of votes were marred by violence, intimidation and economic hardship.

The run-up to the polls has been marked by a crackdown against political activists, media and civil society groups.

Mugabe, who turned 89 on February 21 has ruled the southern African nation since independence in 1980.

The former rivals set up a unity government in early 2009 after the violent polls of the previous year tipped the country into crisis.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130306/zimbabwe-police-blame-error-crackdown-pms-rally