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Washington Conference Looks At Crackdown On Zimbabwe Opposition

Zimbabwean political and human rights activists are calling international attention to the continuing crackdown on opposition and civic groups in the country.

At a Washington conference late last week entitled “Keeping Democratic Hopes Alive Amid Rising Repression,” a delegation of activists from Zimbabwe told those gathered at the Woodrow Wilson Center of their struggle to establish a democratic space, saying they would continue to fight for the rights of the oppressed.

Those speaking included Acting Director Otto Saki of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Deputy International Affairs Secretary Grace Kwinje of the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai related the events of March 11, when a number of senior MDC officials including herself were arrested and sustained severe beatings during the three days they remained in police custody.

Kwinje, who also issued an appeal to the international community from the United Nations last week, charged that the Harare government has been harassing, torturing and killing citizens who are merely exercising their legal rights.

Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United States Machivenyika Mapuranga attended the event and distributed a document giving the government’s response to the charges.

Following a review of the country’s modern history, the paper charged that the MDC leadership clashed violently with police on March 11 “while resisting arrest.”

It said that “no less than 10 police stations” have been firebombed, implying this was the work of a Western-backed opposition. The document cited the final communique of the recent Southern African Development Community summit that asserted that the 2002 presidential election was free and fair and urged Western sanctions be lifted.

National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said his organization seeks a new constitution, free and fair elections and an accountable government.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from the Wilson Center.

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