[JURIST] Police imposed a three-month ban on political rallies and protests Wednesday in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare after a political rally held Sunday by opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [official website]. Despite a court order [Reuters report] instructing police not to interfere with the rally, police used tear-gas and water cannons [JURIST report] to break up the crowd gathered to see Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile] begin his presidential campaign. Opposition group members said police chased and beat people and made several arrests. The police force said the ban was necessary to prevent further disorder. BBC News has more.
Political tensions have run high in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] especially since President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] announced in December that he planned to extend his presidency from 2008 to 2010 to correspond with the parliamentary elections. Earlier this month Mugabe indicated that he would not hesitate to use force [Reuters report] against opposition protests. Mugabe has been in office since the nation's liberation from Britain in 1980, and has become the target of growing criticism as unemployment and poverty rates soar and food shortages become more severe. In May 2006, police arrested opposition leader Arthur Mutambara [BBC backgrounder] and 70 supporters for allegedly campaigning [JURIST report] in violation of Zimbabwes Public Order and Security Act [text], which makes it illegal to hold a political meeting of any size without written approval from police four days in advance. Zimbabwe police, who are tightly controlled by Mugabes administration, often use the act to stifle dissent, shut down independent newspapers, and arrest protesters.