Zimbabwe police bar trade union protests over job losses

Zimbabwean riot police patrol outside Harare Magistrates Court on March 19, 2013 (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)

Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe police on Saturday blocked the country's main workers union from protesting against a recent wave of job losses and briefly held union leaders, one of the march organisers said.

"The police besieged our offices when we were about to stage our demonstration and they decided to arrest the leadership," Japhet Moyo, secretary general of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) told AFP.

"The police then released the leadership by randomly dropping us at various points away from (the planned march site)," he said.

The protestors had intended to express their "anger and displeasure over job losses."

Zimbabwean companies struggling under a long-running economic crisis have in recent months laid off several thousand workers, citing viability problems but sparking workers' outcry.

A defiant Moyo said the union was surprised police targeted the march because protestors had submitted notice of the planned demonstration in compliance with the country's regulations.

"We are re-grouping and going back to the streets," he added.

Police also bundled three journalists -- including an AFP correspondent -- into their truck at the march's kicking off point, but released them an hour later at the Harare Central Police Station without charge.

Dozens of police officers clad in riot gear and wielding batons patrolled the central business district on foot and in trucks, according to an AFP correspondent.

Zimbabwe's economy has been in a downward spiral for more than a decade following President Robert Mugabe's land reforms, which broke the country's agricultural backbone.

The International Monetary Fund earlier this year said Zimbabwe faced a "difficult" economic outlook.

Laws which require locals to hold majority stakes in all firms are also blamed for scaring off foreign investors.

Zimbabwe's finance minister last month slashed the 2015 growth forecast from 3.2 to 1.5 per cent after a slump in farm production.

The southern African nation's economy has been experiencing slow growth, low liquidity and high unemployment.