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More of Zimbabwe's poor are evicted

Thousands forced to rural areas

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Government authorities demolished huts and evicted people west of the capital yesterday, witnesses said, defying UN demands to halt the much condemned urban renewal program that the world body says has left 700,000 people homeless or without a job.

In Geneva, the Red Cross asked for $1.9 million to provide emergency relief to victims of the devastating government-led cleanup. It said the money was for tents, blankets, soap, mosquito nets, water, and purifying tablets.

The government authorities came at night, beat people, and burned huts at Porta Farm, a settlement the government set up in 1991 to house 3,000 squatters so that they would not be seen by visiting Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, a witness said. The number of inhabitants has grown to 30,000 in the past 14 years.

Thousands of people were told they have to move to rural areas, said the witness, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

The government of President Robert Mugabe made no comment about the demolitions and evictions, which are part of a larger program that began in May to clear out urban slums,

Mugabe's government has previously defended Operation Murambatsvina, or ''Drive Out Trash," as a necessary urban cleanup drive to reduce crime and restore order in overcrowded slums. The government has promised to help the displaced rebuild.

Zimbabwe's opposition says the demolitions are aimed at breaking up its strongholds among the urban poor and forcing them into rural areas, where they can be easily controlled by chiefs sympathetic to the government.

Ignatius Chombo, a minister of the local government, has defended the Porta Farm evictions, saying that the area is needed for a sewage site, and that water supplies there are contaminated.

Last Thursday, the United Nations made public a report by its envoy saying the demolitions had ''unleashed chaos and untold human suffering" in a country already gripped by economic chaos and shortages.

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