Police broke up a meeting on Thursday of Zimbabwe's labour movement called to agree plans on protest action in response to the country's controversial presidential election, senior union officials told IRIN.
The police declared the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) general council meeting illegal under the terms of the Public Order and Security Act, ZCTU General-Secretary Wellington Chibebe told IRIN. He said a new venue would be found and the meeting, expected to agree plans for a mass stay away, would eventually take place.
"The labour movement has been surviving under these conditions and we are used to these kind of acrobatics," Chibebe said.
As the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civil society groups continued consultations this week on the way forward, sources told IRIN that a stay away was expected to be called by the ZCTU next week to protest what they allege was a fraudulent poll that re-elected President Robert Mugabe with 56 percent of the vote.
The MDC is also pursuing a legal challenge over the organisation of the 9-11 March election, which local monitors and some international observers declared deeply flawed by intimidation, violence and irregularities in the conduct of the ballot.
"The legal approach is only viable up to a point," University of Zimbabwe political analyst John Mukumbe told IRIN. He said that the appointment of allegedly pro-government Supreme Court judges meant that "it was very unlikely that approach would lead to much".
In a forecast of political unrest to come, Mukumbe said: "It is naive to expect a dictator to allow a democratic process to facilitate his removal ... A dictator can only be removed by a public uprising. I think we are heading that way, though it is sad to say."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday called for calm after the release of the election results. "Let me appeal once again to all Zimbabweans to remain calm, to show respect for each other's rights and the democratic process, and to disavow all acts of violence and retribution," Annan said.
South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma arrived in Harare on Thursday to meet members of the government. Earlier this week Zuma said in parliament that South Africa now had the opportunity to be "innovative" in its approach to engaging its northern neighbour.
"Those discrediting Zimbabwe's electoral process should listen to what the Africans are saying," Zuma reportedly said. The Organisation of African Unity, Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministers, South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia and Kenya have endorsed the election. Western countries and SADC parliamentarians described the process as flawed. The Commonwealth said in an interim report that the poll was held in a "climate of fear" and was not free and fair.
Claude Kabemba of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa said that it was telling that Mugabe as yet had not commented on the election. He suggested that regional pressure could be brought to bear on Mugabe to eventually offer a token of reconciliation, and for his MDC rival Morgan Tsvangirai to accept the result in the interests of stability.
"Now that is naivety proper. Mugabe enjoys a fight and bloodshed does not disgust him," Mukumbe said. "Even if the MDC were to accept such an offer they would, by public demand, be forced to reject it."
He said that protest action would be a long term campaign. "It would use a non-violent approach as much as possible, [wearing down] the pillars of the government's support such as the army and police."