By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer -Friday September 15
6:32 PM ET
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - An opposition leader charged Friday that police seized membership lists and financial records from his party, which had posed the biggest challenge to President Robert Mugabe since he led the African nation to independence in 1980.
But hours after authorities searched two offices of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's High Court declared the actions illegal and ordered police to return the materials, said party secretary general Welshman Ncube.
At one office, the police - some with automatic weapons - took checkbooks, address books and membership lists, and the personal files of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Ncube said.
At the second office north of downtown, police took boxes of files and computer diskettes, he said.
Ncube said Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku ruled the search warrants did not sufficiently specify alleged offenses or identify suspects or documents sought.
``This is another attempt to access the database and financial records with a view to unleashing terror on people assisting MDC materially or financially,'' Ncube said. ``It violates our constitutional rights as a political party.''
Movement for Democratic Change won 57 of 120 elected seats in June parliamentary elections.
In the run-up to those elections, political violence left at least 31 people dead. Most of the victims were opposition supporters.
Police refused to comment on the searches.
However, George Charamba, a spokesman in Mugabe's office, told the state-controlled Herald newspaper the raids were linked to a grenade attack on Monday. Attackers hurled a grenade into the yard at party headquarters. No one was hurt and no one claimed responsibility.
Charamba said police needed access to opposition premises and individuals as part of their investigations.
Britain on Friday protested the searches, calling them a means of intimidation.
``No justification has been given for these raids,'' said Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain. ``Britain deplores any action by the Zimbabwean authorities which intimidates the legitimate parliamentary opposition, or indeed any citizen.''
On Thursday, police also searched the party's offices, claiming they were looking for weapons. None were found, Ncube said.
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