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HARARE (Reuters) - A general strike against President Robert Mugabe collapsed again on Wednesday with Zimbabweans apparently too worried about keeping their jobs and avoiding a police crackdown to take part.
Reuters correspondents saw factories, shops and businesses open in Harare, and there was no sign of riot police in industrial districts or normally restive townships.
Witnesses said the strike, called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), had also failed to take off in other major centers around the country.
"Things are hard enough already and I cannot afford to stay at home and gamble with my job or my security," said a worker at a textile company.
Khumbulani Ndlovu, a ZCTU spokeswoman, told Reuters: "Most companies are open as, because of fear, just a few workers appear to have heeded the call to stay away."
An earlier strike called by the congress in April was stifled by Mugabe's government.
Union leaders had called again for mass action on Wednesday to protest against a wage freeze demanded by Mugabe as galloping inflation and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages ravage the country.
Analysts said Zimbabweans had probably ignored the latest strike call because previous job boycotts had not achieved much.
"Then it's also hard for many others to support this route because they fear losing their jobs, and they fear a harsh government reaction," said Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has clamped down on opponents as frustrations grow over an economic crisis marked by the world's highest inflation rate of about 6,600 percent and joblessness of about 80 percent.
In March, dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested and reportedly beaten in custody.
The crackdown spurred the Southern African Development Community, a grouping of southern African nations, to ask South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate talks between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to negotiate constitutional reforms.
But both South African Nobel prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said the mediation was not enough and Africa must do more to end the crisis.
"All of us Africans must hang our heads in shame for having allowed such a desperate situation to continue almost without anybody doing anything to try and stop it," Tutu told ITV news in London.
Wade, who has often sparred with Mbeki over African leadership, said in a Reuters interview: "It's a mistake to always say that Zimbabwe must be left to Mbeki ... this is a situation which just one person cannot resolve alone."
But South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said on Wednesday Mbeki's quiet diplomacy was paying off.
In a briefing in Pretoria, he pointed to an agreement on Tuesday by the MDC for a constitutional amendment allowing Mugabe to anoint a successor, in exchange for limiting his power to appoint members of parliament.
Pahad said the agreement was a first step in reforms that would help ensure credible elections in Zimbabwe in 2008.
Mbeki and other regional leaders say only quiet diplomacy can work in Zimbabwe, but Western diplomats and other critics say that strategy has given Mugabe room to maneuver.
The critics say Mugabe has brought Zimbabwe to its knees with controversial economic policies such as seizing white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks, a move widely blamed for ruining the agricultural sector.
They say he deepened the crisis by ordering businesses to stop raising prices and salaries to try to tame inflation.
Mugabe blames Western powers, who have imposed targeted sanctions him and his inner circle, for the collapse of the economy and accuses them of plotting with the opposition to oust him.