Zimbabwe police have banned street processions and prayer vigils planned by some churches to mark the first anniversary of Operation Drive Out Trash on Saturday. According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people lost their homes or their livelihoods when police bulldozed slums and what it called illegal structures in Harare and other towns last May. This week human rights organisations said that street children in Harare and other cities were being rounded up by the police and taken to rural camps. Groups in Zimbabwe, including churches, had planned eight weeks of meetings and marches to commemorate the crackdown and highlight the country's deepening economic crisis, marked by rising unemployment, inflation at 1,000% and chronic food and fuel shortages. A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance (ZCA) in Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo said police had summoned church leaders and ordered them to cancel weekend prayer meetings and a march in sympathy with victims of the crackdown. "The ban and request that we abandon the programme is based on the assumption that the prayer meetings and the processions are likely to disturb law and order," Hussein Sibanda, the ZCA spokesman, said. "But we are likely to challenge that in the courts because prayer meetings and peaceful processions by churches should not require police permission," he added. In a statement the Alliance said: "Church leaders in Bulawayo are seriously concerned that police in the city have made an about-turn with respect to granting them clearance to hold a prayer procession on Saturday 20 May to remember victims of last year's Operation Murambatsvina. "As church leaders in Bulawayo, we view this as an infringement of our freedom of worship. If police are to ban church services, which are exempt under the Public Order and Security Act, such a development will have serious implications on the church's right to carry out its God-given mandate. Such action serves to clearly demonstrate the desperate position of the regime."
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