Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe's main opposition parties went to court Thursday to block police from disrupting a march planned for Friday, the latest of a string of protests in the southern African country.
The planned rally is to demand electoral reforms before 2018 when 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for decades, will seek re-election.
The move to seek court backing came a day after police violently put down another march by opposition youths, firing teargas and water cannon and beating them as they staged a protest against police brutality.
Police tried to "discourage" Friday's march, saying the anticipated crowd of around 150,000 would disrupt business and traffic.
But the opposition was defiant.
"This is a peaceful march, it is not up to the police to choose which demonstration to encourage and which demonstration not to encourage," opposition spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told reporters.
"We have gone to the court... to make sure that the police do not disturb the peaceful demonstration."
Former cabinet minister Didymus Mutasa, spokesman of the National Electoral Reform Agenda which groups political parties pushing for the reforms, said the march was to demand "free and fair elections."
The opposition parties include the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) led by former vice president, Joice Mujuru and the Progressive Democratic Party of ex-finance minister Tendai Biti.
Zimbabwe's last elections in 2013 were won by Mugabe in a vote the opposition said was rigged.
The government on Thursday warned it would clamp down heavily on any protests.
"We will not tolerate any attempts, by any group of persons, political parties, civic organisations or individuals whose actions will undermine the peace and quiet that Zimbabwe enjoys today," Home Affair Minister Ignatious Chombo told reporters.
He said Wednesday's protests were "western sponsored."
"Those regime change agents bent on trying to remove a democratically-elected government will face the full wrath of the law."
Zimbabwe has seen a mounting tide of violent protests over the past weeks, with demonstrators calling on Mugabe to step down.
Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has overseen an economic collapse that has caused food and cash shortages, with the country battling to pay public servants.