Zimbabwe Police Say Opposition Leader Detained, 1 Killed During Protest Prayer Meeting

Sunday, March 11th 2007, 6:12 pm
By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Heavily armed police killed a protester and arrested the leader of the main opposition party as they broke up a prayer meeting protesting government policies Sunday.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said one man was shot and killed when 200 opposition party members attacked about 20 policemen. Three policemen were hospitalized with injuries, Bvudzijena told state television.

Police said they arrested Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and other top party officials as they ``instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence.''

Human rights observers reported at least 100 arrests. Political leaders were taken from their cars as they approached the meeting on a sports ground, that had been sealed off by police earlier. Other drivers were turned back at road blocks after being told ``it isn't safe'' to go further.

The prayer meeting had been organized by opposition, civic, church leaders and anti-government groups. Fliers for the prayer meeting proclaimed: ``Zimbabwe Will Be Saved.''

Authorities had declared that the meeting breached a three-month ban on political demonstrations against economic misery and political repression.

Several opposition leaders and church clerics were detained for questioning. They were accused of defying the meeting ban, an opposition spokesman told reporters.

Senior opposition party aide Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said witnesses told him that Tsvangirai was roughed up by police as he was taken away. Tsvangerai's lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, was also assaulted when he tried to intervene, witnesses were quoted as saying.

Lawyers were denied access to those arrested and police refused to say where they were being held, attorney Alec Muchadehama said. They were seeking an urgent High Court ruling granting them immediate access, he added.

A Harare freelance photographer, Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, was among journalists arrested at the scene.

Bvudzijena said gave no arrest figures.

Opponents of President Robert Mugabe blame him for acute food shortages, deepening economic woes, record inflation of some 1,600 percent _ the highest in the world _ and repression and corruption.

They have demanded the ouster of Mugabe, 83, Zimbabwe's only ruler since the country's independence in 1980.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said last week that Zimbabwe faced the risk of ``sudden major violence'' as emboldened government opponents took their frustration to the streets.

Police officials last month imposed the three-month ban on demonstrations after skirmishes with opposition supporters.