Zimbabwean police release Woza protesters

Harare - More than 180 women arrested during a protest march this week in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo were released on Wednesday but 250 others remained in custody in Harare, a lawyer said.

The marchers from the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) group were demanding "roses and dignity" during the marches held in Bulawayo on Monday and Harare on Tuesday.

"Some 141 people including 14 children who were arrested... were released on Wednesday in Bulawayo after being charged with engaging in a march without police clearance and obstructing traffic," said lawyer Sarah Chishiri.

"About 252 arrested in Harare on Tuesday are still in police cells. We are still negotiating to secure their release," Chishiri of Zimbabwe's Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) told AFP.

A lawyer who was arrested together with the protesters in Harare was released hours later, she said.

Hundreds of women, some with children strapped to their backs, took part in the Valentine's Day marches and were arrested and charged under Zimbabwe's tough Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which prohibits demonstrations and political gatherings without police clearance.

"To coincide with Valentine's Day we were making a statement demanding roses and the dignity they stand for and bread in the form of affordable food for everyone," WOZA spokesperson Jenni Williams told AFP on Tuesday.

Grocery stores across Zimbabwe have run out of the staple cornmeal as the country continues to reel under chronic food shortages and near record highs in inflation of 613 percent.

At least four million of the country's population of 13 million will require food aid until the next harvest in May, according to aid agencies.

President Robert Mugabe's government blames the food deficit on drought which affected parts of southern Africa while his critics say shortages were caused by the the land reform programme which saw the seizure of white-owned commercial farms. - Sapa-AFP

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