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Silent streets after apparent protest plans in Zimbabwe

By Columbus MavhungaFor CNN
A planned protest against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe failed to take place Tuesday.
A planned protest against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe failed to take place Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FreeZimActivists apparently planned Zimbabwe Million Citizen March for Tuesday
  • Protest was apparently to end 31-year reign of President Robert Mugabe
  • Planning team in Zimbabwe might have backed off because of riot police, says one activist

(CNN) -- For the group calling itself FreeZimActivists it is back to the drawing board after its planned protest against President Robert Mugabe's rule in the style of Egypt and Tunisia flopped in Zimbabwe.

The group launched an internet campaign for the so-called Zimbabwe Million Citizen March apparently planned for Tuesday to protest the 31-year reign of Mugabe. But at the Harare Gardens park which would have been Zimbabwe's Tahir Square it was peaceful and generally empty on Tuesday. In fact, all the streets of Harare were largely empty and peaceful, apparently over people's fears of being caught up in any protest which might be crushed violently by government allied forces.

Zimbabwe's state media made no reference to the planned demonstration that was supposed to be similar to ones that toppled the long-serving leaders of Tunisia and Egypt last month and caused similar demonstrations throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi is battling to retain his 41-year-old dictatorship in the wake of demonstrations in that country.

Armoured cars carrying riot police and water cannon vehicles have been seen shuttling through Harare since weekend when news of the planned protests filtered through.

Political analyst John Makumbe said the organisers might have announced the date to test the state's preparedness."I am sure it will happen. When it happens, the state structure will be caught napping," said the University of Zimbabwe political scientist.

"Given the way the state responded by bringing out its toys (armoured cars and police) you can tell that it was not going to make it easy for the protests."

One activist said the planning team and the protesters in Zimbabwe might have backed off reacting to the riot police patrolling the streets of Harare."There is need to avoid all the information getting into the hands of those opposed to the cause if the protests are to be anything as what happened in Egypt or Tunisia," he said. The campaigns in Egypt and Tunisia were organised on Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, Zimbabwe authorities charged 46 people with treason. The group was arrested after authorities said they were caught watching footage of the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia in January and of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February.

"On 16 February they held a meeting and the purpose of the meeting was to organise, strategize and implement the removal of a constitutional government of Zimbabwe by unconstitutional means, the Tunisian-Egyptian way," prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba said in court on Thursday.

At least 12 of the 46 activists were beaten with broomsticks on their buttocks and the soles of their feet, defense attorney Alec Muchadehama told a packed courtroom on Thursday. The charge carries a death sentence in Zimbabwe.