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Harare Under International Pressure Over Opposition Arrests, Beatings


International pressure on the Harare government mounted on Tuesday over the detention of opposition and civil society leaders rounded up by police on Sunday and the alleged severe beating of a number of them while in police custody.

Outrage was stoked by images Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai outside a Harare courthouse with cuts on his head, which had been partly shaven, and his face badly swollen. He said the police had beaten him and other "defenseless people" held in custody.

Authorities failed to arraign Tsvangirai and the other opposition leaders, including his rival MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara and National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, as the Harare high court had ordered Monday.

But the men were taken from the court to Parirenyatwa Hospital in the capital where they received treatment and at least some were admitted for treatment. Sources said police maintained custody and cordoned off the state hospital

Tsvangirai and the others were arrested on Sunday when police prevented the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, an opposition umbrella group, from holding a prayer meeting at a sports stadium in the Harare suburb of Highfield. Police clashed with demonstrators and eventually opened fire on them, killing activist Gift Tandare.

More shooting was reported early Tuesday in Glenview, another Harare suburb that is an opposition stronghold. Two men who had been attending a vigil for Tandare were shot when unidentified assailants opened fire from a passing truck.

They were reported to be in serious condition at Avenues Clinic. An eyewitness said the truck from which the shots came had markings of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Police in Harare brought a number of arrested opposition leaders and members to magistrate’s court on Tuesday for arraignment two hours after a deadline of noon set by the high court Monday. Authorities had not yet complied with the court's order to let the opposition members obtain medical care for injuries sustained in custody.

Procedural difficulties - sources said police had not filed papers with prosecutors - Tsvangirai and the others were taken to the hospital instead of being arraigned.

The continued detention of Tsvangirai, Mutambara, Madhuku and an estimated 100 members of their organizations drew international protests.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the prisoners. Rice said Washington holds President Robert Mugabe “responsible for the safety and well-being of those in custody.”

She added in a strongly worded denunciation of Harare that “the world community again has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe.” Rice said the U.S. government would continue to monitor events closely.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the reported police beatings. His spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said “such actions violate the basic democratic rights of citizens to engage in peaceful assembly.”

Condemnation also came from the European Union presidency now held by Germany. The EU presidency issued a statement underlining Harare's responsibility "to ensure that those arrested are safe and remain unharmed.”

Secretary General Tendai Biti of Tsvangirai’s MDC faction gave reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe a description of the treatment he and others received while in police custody, saying he believed orders to beat them came from the top.

State Security Minister Didydmus Mutasa defended the arrests of opposition leaders and police use of deadly force, telling reporter Carole Gombakomba that Harare is only making good on its warning that it will meet violence with violence.

MDC officials said two members of its youth wing were shot and wounded in Glenview early Tuesday. Nickson Magondo and Naison Mashambanhaka were rushed to the Avenues Clinic in Harare. Opposition sources said heavily armed police, military and Central Intelligence Organization agents have been patrolling the area and at times harassing mourners. Police Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena refused to comment.

Activist Steven Mutsipa, who was narrowly missed by the gunfire, said the shots were fired at a crowd of about 300 people from a truck bearing the ruling party's logo.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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