A coalition of Malawian church leaders and human rights activists held a candlelit vigil and prayers Thursday "to beseech God to intercede in the deteriorating human rights and political situation" in Zimbabwe. A similar coalition in Botswana also staged a demonstration to urge both the government and the Southern African Development Community to take a tougher line against the brutal clampdown against opposition supporters. "We express our profound concern and outrage at the horrific events that have recently transpired in Zimbabwe, which have resulted in opposition leaders being killed, beaten, and traumatized by a ruling elite that appear to have no tolerance whatsoever, for any dissenting views, and are prepared to go to any lengths to preserve their grip on power," read a statement issued at the vigil.
Zimbabwean opposition activists re-arrested
About 50 people attended the prayer meeting, held in a darkened room to symbolize the suffering in Zimbabwe. They warned the escalating crisis would have "massive negative effects" on impoverished Malawi, which has received an estimated 100,000 Zimbabwe refugees in the past year and looks set to absorb even more in the coming months.
Zimbabwe has come in for international condemnation for the brutal break-up of a prayer meeting in Harare and the arrest and subsequent beating of opposition leaders. But Southern African leaders, except for Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, have been muted in their criticism of President Robert Mugabe despite the impact of Zimbabwe's meltdown on their own economies.
The Botswana Civil Society Coalition on Zimbabwe held a rally late afternoon in the capital Gabarone. Police refused to allow the 150 demonstrators to march to the headquarters of the Southern African Development Community, but organizers said they planned more protests.
Kathleen Letshago, deputy leader of the opposition Botswana National Front, said the policy of silent diplomacy had failed to persuade Mugabe to mend his ways.
"Our leaders are failing us where it matters most," she said.