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US Condemns Zimbabwe Police Beatings Of Anti-Amendment Protesters

The United States government has condemned the beatings of numerous members of the National Constitutional Assembly in Harare and other Zimbabwean cities after demonstrations this week against government plans to amend the constitution.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called upon President Robert Mugabe and his government to “respect the right of all Zimbabweans to participate in the democratic process and to guarantee the safety and well-being of its citizens.”

McCormack called the beatings of an estimated 200 NCA members rounded up at the group’s headquarters after protests Wednesday “an overt attempt by the government of Zimbabwe to eliminate any criticism” ahead of elections set for March 2008.

He said Harare's response to dissent “continues to call into question” its commitment to crisis resolution talks mediated by South Africa. NCA officials said more than 260 members of the civic group were beaten by the police in Harare and Gweru.

Activists were forced to lie on their stomachs while they were beaten by the police for more than three hours, NCA officials and witnesses said.

They included nursing mothers who were told to put down their babies who wailed as their mothers were being beaten. One baby was hit in the head during the protests.

Many Harare activists were receiving treatment at the Avenues Clinic and Dandaro Hospital in the capital.

NCA sources said police at the Mkoba and Gweru Central stations in the Midlands provincial capital of Gweru forced 14 activists to strip naked, then beat them.

Gweru police later released 15 activists on Z$800,000 (US$5) bail each, 14 of whom went straight to a local hospital for treatment. Two senior NCA officials were arrested there late Friday amid fears that they might be beaten or tortured.

Most NCA activists in Mutare, Masvingo and Gweru went underground as police were raiding homes and detaining known activists. However, undeterred by the crackdown, some activists in eastern Mutare took to the streets Friday and 26 were arrested.

The Zimbabwe crisis was on the agenda for regional officials of the Southern African Development Community meeting Friday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. SADC states are concerned at the accelerating deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe.

NCA National Director Ernest Mudzengi told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that police engaged in an orgy of violence at Harare Central station.

Activist Evidence John said that pleas for mercy by the activists only further angered police officers continued to assault them indiscriminately.

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