Zimbabwe opposition says activists missing, police deny holding them

HARARE, May 14 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's main opposition party said on Thursday three of its activists were missing a day after taking part in a protest over food shortages and police denied holding them after initially telling local media they had been arrested.

The southern African nation has a history of enforced disappearances of government opponents and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it feared its members, including a member of parliament, had been abducted by state security agents.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi was quoted by state-owned and private press as saying the three had been arrested for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration on Wednesday. Nyathi could not be reached for comment.

But in a statement later on Thursday, police denied holding the MDC members in their custody and said law enforcement agents wanted to interview the activists in connection with the protest that drew a few dozen people.

That has raised fears about the whereabouts and safety of the three in a country where activists often disappear and later turn up at police stations claiming to have been tortured.

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"We demand their unconditional and immediate release," the MDC said in a statement.

The embassies of Britain, Canada and the United States and the European Union mission in Harare expressed concern via social media over the missing activists and said police should swiftly establish their whereabouts and wellbeing.

The Harare-based legal group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it had approached the High Court on behalf of the families of the MDC activists to compel police to determine their whereabouts. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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