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Zimbabwean opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai addresses a media conference to launch his party's Without Reforms No Elections (WReNE) document in Harare, in this file photo dated September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo


By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe opposition leaders are going to court to demand authorities allow and provide security for a planned march on Friday calling for electoral reform after police chiefs suggested they presented a petition instead.

Leaders from 18 political parties, including Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice president Joice Mujuru will lead Friday's demonstration, which they expect to draw thousands of supporters.

Police used teargas and water cannon on Wednesday to break-up a march by MDC youth supporters, who were protesting against economic woes and what they say is brutality by security agents.

Police commander for the Harare Central District, Chief Superintendent Newbert Saunyama, told protest organizers in a letter on Thursday that they could present a petition at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission without marching, adding that the expected number of participants, 150,000, was too big.

"This office is discouraging the issue of marching in the central business district, considering the number of participants," Saunyama said.

"The crowd cannot be accommodated in the central business district of Harare as it interrupts with both human and vehicular traffic."

In the first large scale demonstrations Zimbabwe has seen since 2007, protests inspired by social media movements such as #ThisFlag led by pastor Evan Mawarire have erupted in the past months.

Protesters want President Robert Mugabe to fire corrupt ministers, scrap plans to introduce local bank notes and end cash shortages that have caused queues at banks.

On Friday, opposition groups want the government to ensure the electoral field is fair ahead of presidential and parliamentary votes due in 2018 and does not favour the ruling ZANU-PF party, as well as setting out a roadmap for the ballot.

Mugabe, 92, who plans to contest the vote, has chided the opposition for seeking his downfall through protests, saying his opponents are afraid of defeat at the ballot box. He denies opposition and Western charges of rigging previous elections.

Under Zimbabwe's security laws, organizers are required to notify the police of any demonstration seven days before the event, but the police routinely ban protests by the opposition.

Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC secretary general and legal secretary for National Electoral Reform Agenda, the organizers of the march, said the opposition would go to court later on Thursday to ensure the police would not disturb Friday's event and that they provide adequate security.

"The police are not saying in this letter that they are afraid of violence, are afraid of any illegality or that they do not have manpower, they are not saying that. They are simply saying the figure is too much," Mwonzora told reporters.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Alison Williams)


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