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Police arrest 36 people in troubled Zimbabwe
A portrait of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is partially seen on a torn up pieces of an election poster in Harare, Wednesday, April 16, 2008 , 9 days after the country went to the polls. Police arrested 36 people and accused them of trying to enforce a nationwide strike called by Zimbabwe's opposition to pressure the government to release the results, a state-run newspaper reported. - photo by Associated Press
    HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police arrested 36 people and accused them of attempting to violently enforce a nationwide strike called by Zimbabwe’s opposition to press for the release of presidential election results, authorities said Wednesday.
    A judge, meanwhile, acquitted New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak and British journalist Stephen Bevan of covering the election illegally.
    Magistrate Gloria Takwunda said the state ‘‘failed dismally to prove that there was reasonable suspicion of them practicing as journalists.’’
    The two men were held by police for days following their arrest on April 3. They have been free on bail for more than a week but blocked from leaving the country pending the court ruling.
    Takwunda said state evidence was ‘‘inconsistent and unreliable.’’
    A story on the New York Times’ Web site said Bearak had left the country.
    Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said Wednesday that Bearak’s family, friends and colleagues are overjoyed that he is on his way home.
    ‘‘His only offense was honest journalism, telling Zimbabwe’s story at a time of tormented transition. He had no intention of becoming part of that story,’’ Keller said.
    Keller said they were thankful to many people. ‘‘It’s hard to know, in a country as politically opaque as Zimbabwe, what made a difference, but we are grateful for all of it,’’ he said.
    Zimbabwe has waited 18 days to hear results from its presidential vote. The electoral commission has said it is verifying votes and investigating anomalies, but the opposition says the delay is a strategy by longtime ruler Robert Mugabe to maintain his 28-year grip on power.
    Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the March 29 election outright. Independent tallies show Tsvangirai won, but not by enough to prevent a runoff.
    Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change has failed in appeals to the courts and regional leaders to force the release of results.
    The party called for Zimbabweans to stay away from their jobs starting Tuesday in a show of solidarity, but there were few indications that people heeded the call. Although there were some street barricades and fewer commuter buses running than normal, most stores and banks opened and downtown was busy with people.
    The 36 young suspects were arrested in Harare and four other cities for blocking streets, stoning cars and buses and preventing people from going to work, said police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena.
    Police presence remained heavy Wednesday, with soldiers carrying assault rifles and police in riot gear stationed across Harare and its suburbs.
    A freelance cameraman was also arrested Tuesday while filming in Harare, according to an Associated Press journalist who saw the incident. The government refused accreditation to many foreign reporters and a number have been detained for covering the vote without permission.
    In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was deeply concerned by the failure to release the election results.
    ‘‘Absent a transparent solution to this impasse, the situation could deteriorate further with serious implications for the people of Zimbabwe,’’ he warned. ‘‘The credibility of the democratic process in Africa could be at stake here.’’
    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was also at the high-level U.N. Security Council meeting on African peace and security issues, said ‘‘no one thinks, having seen the results at polling stations, that President Mugabe has won this election.’’

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