- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

From combined dispatches

HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Zimbabwean opposition legislator was badly beaten yesterday as he tried to travel to Belgium, a day after his colleagues were stopped from taking a medical trip to South Africa, an official from his party said.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, was at Harare airport on his way to an Africa, Pacific and Caribbean-European Union parliamentary meeting when about eight men pounced on him.

“He was badly beaten by men who jumped out of two unmarked cars at the airport,” Mr. Tsvangirai’s spokesman, William Bango, told Reuters news agency.

Mr. Chamisa was receiving treatment at a Harare hospital on his eye and left jaw and had lost a lot of blood, Mr. Bango said.

Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, told the Associated Press from Johannesburg that Mr. Chamisa had been “beaten on the head with iron bars.”

“There was blood all over his face. He is in a critical condition at a private hospital in Harare.”

Mr. Tsvangirai, who is recovering from a police beating a week ago, said on the BBC’s Sunday morning program that the crisis in Zimbabwe had reached a decisive moment.

“Things are bad,” he said, “but I think that this crisis has reached a tipping point, and we could see the beginning of the end of this dictatorship in whatever form.”

On Saturday, police stopped two MDC leaders, Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh, from boarding a flight to South Africa for medical checks after they were beaten in police custody along with Mr. Tsvangirai on March 11, their attorney said.

Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a splinter MDC faction, was also stopped from traveling to South Africa, where he spends part of his time working, an MDC official said.

Police were not available for comment.

The European Union presidency, which Germany holds, said it was “outraged and deeply concerned” about the treatment of Mr. Chamisa and voiced its worries about the other MDC members.

“The presidency condemns these actions by the security forces in the strongest possible terms and calls on the Zimbabwean government to release all detained opposition politicians immediately, to enable them to have access to legal assistance and medical care,” it said in a statement.

“It appeals to the government to respect the rule of law and human rights and to refrain from doing anything [that] might lead to a further escalation of the situation in Zimbabwe.”

Police arrested Mr. Tsvangirai and dozens of opposition and civic group leaders for holding an illegal rally last weekend.

A court hearing on Tuesday was canceled after a state prosecutor ordered Mr. Tsvangirai and others be treated at a hospital.

The violence has drawn new attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent — the highest in the world.

Mr. Mugabe, 83, has rejected the international condemnation after the arrests and beatings, telling critics to “go hang” and vowing to crack down on further protests.

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