A rally planned by a small faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara in Chitungwiza, south of the capital, will now be permitted to go ahead.

Condemnation

The ban on political gatherings has been condemned by the opposition and human rights groups, who say that Mugabe's government has imposed a virtual state of emergency. 

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Mugabe was also heavily criticised by the international community after a badly beaten Tsvangirai appeared in court after being arrested in a police crackdown on an prayer meeting in the Highfield township.

Mugabe has blamed the opposition for the recent violence and warned that a continued campaign of defiance or protests by opponents and civic and church groups would be met "very vigorously" by security forces.

"We hope they have learned a lesson. If they have not, then they will get similar treatment," he said on Friday.

Election plans

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF's leaders are reportedly considering abandoning widely criticised proposals to delay presidential elections until 2010.

The official Herald newspaper said Mugabe told a meeting of the party's Women's League on Friday that there was growing consensus in the party to hold elections next year and the issue would be discussed at a meeting of the central committee next week.

"I think the view is that 2008 is preferable. Some of our lawyers are saying this will not give problems," Mugabe was quoted as saying, in an apparent concession to party members.

"If we are going to have an election [next year], we must start organising and mobilising support now, now, now."