- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

12:26 p.m.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police assaulted and tortured Zimbabwe’s most prominent opposition leader after breaking up a protest prayer meeting, leaving him with deep gashes on his head and shoulders, colleagues said today.

The organizers of the “Save Zimbabwe” meeting — an alliance of opposition, civic, church leaders and student and anti-government groups — said lawyers reported that Morgan Tsvangirai fainted three times after being beaten by police. The Save Zimbabwe Campaign also said another opposition leader, Lovemore Madhuku, was taken to the main Harare hospital early today after collapsing from police assaults. He was reported in serious condition.

At least four other opposition and civic leaders were beaten and tortured in custody, the campaign said.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said his wife was allowed to see him today in a suburban jail and reported the wounds. Susan Tsvangirai reported her husband was heavily bandaged, said his deputy, Movement for Democratic Change Vice President Thoko Khupe. Some of the wounds were sutured and an eye was badly swollen.

“This is not consistent with the normal police brutality we have witnessed. The injuries were deliberate and an attempt to assassinate him,” said Eliphas Mukonoweshure, another top opposition official.

Lawyers were still being denied access to Mr. Tsvangirai, Miss Khupe said.

Opponents of President Robert Mugabe blame him for acute food shortages, record inflation of some 1,600 percent — the highest in the world — and repression and corruption. They have demanded the ouster of 83-year-old Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980.

A State Department spokesman condemned the police response to the protest and said the United States was shocked by reports of injuries suffered by opposition leaders.

The attacks “were an indication of the repressive nature of the Mugabe dictatorship,” said the spokesman, Tom Casey.

One protester was shot dead by police in yesterday’s unrest in the western Harare township of Highfield and scores of others were arrested. Two journalists trying to cover the events also were arrested.

Yesterday, a police spokesman said police arrested Mr. Tsvangirai and other top party officials as they “instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence.”

He said one man was shot and killed when 200 opposition party “thugs” attacked about 20 policemen. The organizers identified the dead protester as Gift Tandare, an activist of Mr. Tsvangirai’s opposition group.

Authorities had declared the prayer meeting to be in breach of a three-month ban on political demonstrations. Riot and paramilitary police reinforcements, which had been deployed since Friday in the area where the prayer meeting was scheduled, sealed off approaches to a sports ground and fired tear gas to disperse the gathering.

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