- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s most prominent opposition leader was seriously injured — with deep gashes on his head and shoulders — from beatings and torture by police who broke up a public meeting that had been declared illegal, colleagues said yesterday.

Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change, was in a suburban jail, said his wife, Susan, who was allowed to visit a day after he was detained at Sunday’s meeting of the “Save Zimbabwe Campaign.” She said some of her husband’s wounds had been sutured and heavily bandaged, and one eye was badly swollen.

Lawyers said at least five other opposition, anti-government and civic leaders were among the scores of people arrested in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe’s security forces and political supporters.

The 83-year-old Mr. Mugabe has been blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages, deepening economic woes and inflation of about 1,600 percent — the highest in the world.

Police said they fatally shot one demonstrator when they broke up Sunday’s meeting in the western suburb of Highfield with tear gas, a water cannon and live ammunition.

Among the injured was opposition leader Lovemore Madhuku, who collapsed after being assaulted by police and was taken to the main hospital in Harare, where he was in serious condition, according to the Save Zimbabwe Campaign.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police arrested Mr. Tsvangirai, 55, and other top party officials as they “instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence.”

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

Mr. Bvudzijena told state TV that three police officers were hospitalized with injuries.

In Washington, the State Department condemned the crackdown, saying it was shocked by reports of injuries suffered by opposition leaders.

The attacks “were an indication of the repressive nature of the Mugabe dictatorship,” deputy spokesman Tom Casey said, urging the government to provide medical treatment for victims and to release them as soon as possible.

Organizers of Sunday’s prayer meeting — an alliance of opposition, civic society, church leaders and student and anti-government groups — said Mr. Tsvangirai fainted three times after being beaten by police.

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

Since founding the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999, the first major challenge to Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, Mr. Tsvangirai was seldom seen in the forefront of defiant anti-government street protests, preferring a strategy of lower profile civil disobedience.

In 2005, some opposition colleagues began questioning whether Mr. Tsvangirai could bring down Mr. Mugabe and his party.

Mr. Tsvangirai accused the ruling party of rigging parliamentary elections that year and called on Zimbabweans to defend their vote, but did not make clear how the opposition would fight back. In recent years, the opposition has not made good on threats to stage strikes to shut down the government.

Mr. Tsvangirai has been assaulted and harassed in the past. In 1999, when he was rumored to be considering a challenge to Mr. Mugabe, attackers who were suspected of being ruling party militants assaulted him and tried to hurl him out of a 10th-floor window. The screams of loyal staff forced the assailants to flee.

Just two weeks before he challenged Mr. Mugabe in a 2002 presidential election, Mr. Tsvangirai was arrested and faced the first of two treason charges, reportedly for plotting to kill Mr. Mugabe. He was acquitted but still faces another treason charge for reportedly calling for the violent overthrow of Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only ruler since it won independence from Britain in 1980.

Opposition candidates and supporters have been killed, beaten, tortured, raped or abducted in state-sanctioned political violence. Many have been repeatedly arrested.

Opposition spokeswoman Thoko Khupe said police “unleashed a wave of indiscriminate violence” to clear people from the area where Sunday’s meeting had been planned. She also said police in the eastern city of Mutare yesterday arrested at least 100 persons for protesting the previous day’s arrests.

Affable and self-effacing, Mr. Tsvangirai rose from humble beginnings as a textile factory worker and labor leader to form the first credible opposition to Mr. Mugabe and his party. Mr. Mugabe has consistently portrayed Mr. Tsvangirai as a stooge of Britain and the United States.

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