Monday, March 12, 2007

Zimbabwe: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beaten by Mugabe's police
Jen Radshaw and Philip Norton, writing for Times Online

Robert Mugabe's police was accused today of beating and torturing a number of opposition leaders arrested at a banned prayer rally in Zimbabwe yesterday.

Among them was Morgan Tsvangirai, the country's main opposition leader, whose lawyer said that he had to be taken to hospital for treatment after receiving a severe beating in custody.

Innocent Chagonda said that he had seen Mr Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), when he was "paraded" with other detainees in a Harare police station, although he was not allowed to speak to him.

“He was in bad shape, he was swollen very badly. He was bandaged on the head. You couldn’t distinguish between the head and the face and he could not see properly,” Mr Chagonda told Reuters news agency.

On the street, dozens of police riot squads in trucks and on foot - armed with shotguns, teargas canisters and rubber batons - kept up the pressure on Monday, patrolling Harare’s Highfield township.

Washington said the crackdown was “brutal and unwarranted”.

The Save Zimbabwe campaign said one reformist leader, Lovemore Madhuku, was taken to the main Harare hospital early this morning after collapsing from police assaults. Mr Madhuku's group said that he had suffered a broken arm and a bad head wound.

Mr Chagonda said that he saw Mr Tsvangirai behind a fence at the Borrowdale police station. “Police confirmed they had taken him to hospital last night, which explains the reason he was bandaged,” he said.

There was no news, however, as to Arthur Mutambara, who heads a breakaway MDC faction and was arrested with the others as they arrived in convoy at Highfields suburb, to the south of Harare, the scene of violent street clashes last month.

Mr Mutambara's party said in a statement that he had been moved from Harare's central police station to another station, but his whereabouts were now unknown. A lawyer hired to represent him was allegedly assaulted and chased away from the police station to which he was first taken.

"As a party we are extremely concerned by this development as past experience has shown that it is normal police procedure to hide the whereabouts of arrested persons when they intend to engage in acts of torture and abuse," it said.

The organisers said that the event was a mass prayer meeting in an attempt to get round a police ban on all political meetings in the capital. Riot police cordoned off roads leading into the suburb from early yesterday morning, stopping and searching cars.

Open trucks carrying riot police armed with truncheons patrolled nearby highways. Military police were also seen picking their way through the long grass around Highfields.

Among those also reported arrested were Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the MDC, and Mike Davies, chairman of the Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA).

Wayne Bvudzijena, a police spokesman, said that Mr Tsvangirai and the others had been arrested because they had “instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence”.

He said that the fatal shooting happened when 200 opposition party “thugs” attacked about 20 policemen. Mr Bvudzijena also told state television that three police officers were taken to hospital.

Mr Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, has been criticised in the past for failing to lead millions of Zimbabweans disgruntled with years of misrule by President Mugabe.

But last week he told a rally in Chiwetu, eastern Zimbabwe, that the opposition now had to meet Mr Mugabe “head-on”. “We have to create a situation where the Zanu (PF) Government will hate, arrest and kill us,” he said in comments in the Manica Post newspaper.

Mr Mugabe, 83, has stirred tempers by announcing plans to postpone presidential elections due next year until 2010.

However, in the first indication that ruling party insiders may have forced him to rethink his plans, he told a regional newspaper yesterday that he would be willing to stand in elections in 2008 “if the party says so”.

Life is getting harder for ordinary Zimbabweans. Annual inflation reached 1,729.9 per cent this week, the highest yet. Petrol is fast disappearing from garages and backyard pumps after rumours that the controversial Central Bank governor Gideon Gono, may this week force vendors into the official selling price of Zim$325 Zimbabwe a litre (less than 1p). Petrol sells for about Zim$9,000 on the black market.

[Zimbabwe's Catholic Archbishop has opposed Mugabe, but I have no indication that the Anglican Archbishop has done so. Abp Malango has in fact shielded Bp Nolbert Kunonga, an infamous Mugabe crony, from ecclesial prosecution.]

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