Zimbabwean Opposition Leader In Hospital

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 7:01 am
By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The country's main opposition leader underwent a brain scan Wednesday, and his lawyer said he may have suffered a skull fracture and internal bleeding as a result of police beatings.

Morgan Tsvangirai was moved to a high care unit at a hospital, said lawyer Tafadza Mugabe.

Tsvangirai, 54, and other opposition figures were arrested at a prayer meeting Sunday in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe's security forces and political supporters.

At a brief court appearance Tuesday, Tsvangirai's right eye was swollen shut and his head partly shaved to reveal crudely stitched gashes.

``It was damn barbaric,'' said British Ambassador Andrew Pockock, who was in court.

Tsvangirai appeared disoriented as he walked slowly and boarded an emergency vehicle unaided.

Another 34 activists were released from the private hospital in Harare early Wednesday and reunited with their families.

Those freed were told to return to the Harare magistrates' court when it opened Wednesday, but amid chaos at the court no proceedings were held and the activists returned to their homes.

Beatrice Mtetwa, another lawyer for the group, and police were not present at the court.

``If they want us, the police can call us,'' she said.

Tsvangirai attorney Innocent Chagonda said police withdrew from Harare's Avenues Clinic later Wednesday. He said a High Court order issued late Monday ordered police to charge or release the opposition leaders and activists by noon on Tuesday. None was charged.

``As far as we are concerned, they are now free men,'' he said.

Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and colleagues from other opposition and civic groups were ferried in ambulances and buses from the magistrates' court Tuesday after the state agreed to let all those detained receive medical attention.

Many of them sustained severe bruising and internal injuries after police raided a prayer meeting Sunday that authorities had declared illegal.

Mtetwa said police forced Tsvangirai and many of her other clients to lay face down and then beat them savagely and repeatedly with truncheons both at the scene of the arrests and at police stations.

Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai's party, also had head wounds, and Lovemore Madhuku, head of a militant reform group, suffered a broken arm.

``The world community again has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe,'' said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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. Two mourners were slightly injured Tuesday at his funeral in skirmishes with police, witnesses said.

Among those arrested Sunday in Highfield were two journalists on assignment for The Associated Press, Harare freelance photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwahzi and freelance television producer Tendai Musiya. Both were also released from official custody but Musiya was still undergoing medical checks and was expected to return home shortly.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell expressed disappointment at what he called the passivity of neighboring states, including South Africa, in the face of the suffering of Zimbabweans.

``One would hope that in the glaring light of the growing brutality of the Zimbabwean government, those states would finally feel moved to act. They can no longer deny that there is a real crisis on the way here,'' Dell told the British Broadcasting Corp.

South Africa's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad issued a statement urging the Zimbabwean government to ensure respect for the rule of law and the opposition to work toward ``a climate that is conducive to finding a lasting solution'' to the challenges facing Zimbabwe.

The European Union condemned ``the ongoing violent suppression of the freedom of opinion and of assembly, as well as of other fundamental rights.''

Mugabe's opponents blame the 83-year-old leader for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent _ the highest in the world. They have demanded the ouster of Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980.

State radio Tuesday quoted Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu as saying opposition activists had attacked police and were to blame for the violence.

Authorities suspected an ``underground movement'' of opponents was planning a violent campaign against the government, he said.

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