Zimbabwe's Mugabe Faces Growing Condemnation Over Crackdown

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 7:06 am
By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian regime came under growing international condemnation following a violent crackdown on a weekend gathering of opposition activists that has bolstered Zimbabwe's opposition movement.

The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, suffered a suspected skull fracture, brain injury and internal bleeding in the violence, and results of a brain scan were expected Thursday. Lawyers and other activists said he was savagely beaten in police custody.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush Sunday's gathering by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups, in Harare's western township of Highfield. Police shot and killed one opposition activist, identified as Gift Tandare.

In Britain, William Hague of the opposition Conservative Party urged his government and EU states to ``rigorously enforce'' economic sanctions and travel bans on Zimbabwe.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday that the United States ``has in place a number of sanctions against those responsible for repressing democratic efforts in Zimbabwe.''

``I think in terms of what we have done to date, they haven't been very specific and focused on individuals who have been associated with some of these repressive policies,'' Casey said. ``I think we'd have to take _ and we will have to take a look at what is currently on the table and what other steps might be taken. There's always other tools in the toolbox though, and I certainly expect we'll look at those.''

Casey said Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, planned to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe on Thursday with African Union officials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who holds the rotating AU chairmanship, said Wednesday that the organization found the turmoil in Zimbabwe ``very embarrassing'' and was doing all it could to help.

``I know personally that presidents like (South Africa's Thabo) Mbeki tried desperately to exercise some influence for the better,'' he told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

``Please don't think that Africa is not concerned. Africa is very much concerned. What can Mbeki as a man do? Are you proposing that Africa compose an expedition team to march on Zimbabwe and oppose? It does not happen like that. We are in our various ways trying very hard.''

Police reported late Wednesday that three policewomen were burned by a gasoline bomb attack on a police station in western Harare. Police said they suspected opposition activists were responsible.

``The nature of the attack assumes a militia type,'' police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told state television.

Mugabe, 83, has said he favors a plan to extend his term in office by two years, by delaying next year's presidential election until 2010. The move purportedly is to save money by holding the ballot at the same time as parliamentary elections, but it is seen as an effort to delay a showdown between rival factions within the ruling party over the choice of Mugabe's successor.

The violence heightened growing tensions in urban strongholds of the opposition, renewing questions about how long Mugabe can maintain his tight grip on power.

The president's opponents accuse him of oppression and corruption, and blame him for Zimbabwe's acute food shortages and the world's highest inflation rate, some 1,600 percent a year.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said earlier this month that deep divisions within Mugabe's party appeared to have ``energized'' Zimbabweans to take to the streets, and independent human rights groups have reported discontent in the poorly paid security forces.

A dozen opposition activists allegedly beaten by police remained hospitalized while 34 others were released from the clinic early Wednesday, lawyers said. Those freed were told to go to court, but no proceedings were held and the activists returned home.

Tsvangirai, 54, was moved Wednesday to a unit in the clinic where he could be more closely monitored.

He told British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview from his bed in a Harare clinic that police beat him on the head, knees and back and broke his arm. He said that he ``lost a lot of blood'' and was given two pints.

``I think the intent was to inflict as much harm as they could,'' said Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe's only president since independence in 1980, went to the same clinic Wednesday to visit his sister, Sabena Mugabe, who was there for an undisclosed ailment, hospital staff said.

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu sought to blame opposition activists for Sunday's violence, claiming they attacked police, according to state radio. Authorities suspect an ``underground movement'' is planning a violent campaign against the government, he said.

Nathan Shamuyarira, chief spokesman for the ruling party, said Tsvangirai defied a police order banning Sunday's meeting. ``Tsvangirai really asked for the trouble in which he has found himself,'' he told South African state television.