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Harare Maintains Pressure On Opposition With Siege Of Party Headquarters

The crisis in Zimbabwe again sharpened late Wednesday as police surrounded the Harare headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, hours after authorities released a battered MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai and other prominent political and civil society opponents of President Robert Mugabe.

Sources said heavily armed riot police surrounded Harvest House, MDC headquarters in the capital, for three hours. The government has put the police and the army on high alert in major cities and towns, apparently to prevent an upsurge of protests.

Correspondent Taurai Shava filed a report from the Midlands capital of Gweru, where residents expressed fear that a heavy police presence would trigger violence.

Detained opposition leaders and activists were released Tuesday evening though they had not been arraigned, and the police and state prosecutors again failed to present the necessary paperwork in court Wednesday, leaving leaving them at liberty.

Doctors at the Avenues Clinic in Harare said Tsvangirai sustained a fractured skull while in police hands. Also still hospitalized were Tendai Biti, secretary general of Tsvangirai’s opposition faction, Nelson Chamisa, his information secretary, and Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly.

Madhuku, being treated for injuries to his head and a broken arm, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe in an interview from intensive care that despite the assault, the opposition will continue to fight for democratic reform.

Rival MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara vowed in an interview that the opposition will continue to defy a police ban on public meetings. He added that the arrests and rough police handling have brought the two opposition factions closer together. The MDC split into two factions in late 2005 over issues of policy and personalities.

Defense lawyers for Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders released Tuesday night expressed perplexity at the apparent breakdown of the legal process in the cases.

A Harare high court judge ordered Monday that the detainees must receive medical attention and be brought into magistrate’s court by noon Tuesday, but police did not produce the prisoners until 2 p.m. Tuesday and no medical care had been provided. Police released the prisoners Tuesday evening without having arraigned them.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, a member of the legal team representing the opposition, said attorneys were in magistrate’s court until 10 p.m. on Tuesday night seeking disposition of the cases - but police and prosecutors never showed up.

Mtetwa finally called a state prosecutor who said the cases would be taken up early Wednesday - but yesterday again the arraignment failed to take place.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare magistrate's court.

Police and prosecutors did not object as defense lawyers sent their clients home.

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