Tsvangirai allegedly tortured in police custody

 

Zimbabwe:Pro-democracy activists in Zimbabwe fear a fresh onslaught from the government after the arrest and alleged torture of the country's main opposition leader.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was being treated in hospital yesterday for what his colleagues described as "severe head injuries".

The attack was strongly condemned by the US, and a number of European governments, but drew customary silence from Zimbabwe's closest neighbours in southern Africa.

Roy Bennett, an exiled MDC parliamentarian who fled Zimbabwe after attacks on his family, said he was particularly dismayed at South Africa's policy of "quiet diplomacy".

"When you have a government that is trying to eliminate the leadership of the opposition, and that is shooting at unarmed demonstrators, you are back at a Sharpeville situation," he said, referring to one of the most notorious atrocities of South Africa's apartheid regime. "These latest attacks are the actions of a rogue state. But yet again there is silence from all quarters."

Several leading opposition figures arrested with Mr Tsvangirai at a prayer rally in Harare on Sunday have also been hospitalised. Mr Bennett said from his sources he understood they had been "beaten to an inch of their lives". One protester, named as Gift Tandare, was shot dead when riot police opened fire on the demonstration. Police said three of its officers had been injured after youths threw stones at them. The vigil had earlier been banned by the security forces, acting on the instructions of President Robert Mugabe.

Despite the government's tough tactics, the MDC said its protests would continue. It claimed that at least 100 people had been arrested in the western city of Mutare yesterday following further disturbances.

Zimbabwe's high court yesterday ordered that police allow lawyers access to Mr Tsvangirai. His wife, following a visit, reported that her husband's speech was impaired and his head heavily bandaged. "This is not consistent with the normal police brutality we have witnessed. The injuries were deliberate and an attempt to assassinate him," said Eliphas Mukonoweshure, a leading MDC official.

Mr Mugabe (83), who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has signalled his intent to seek re-election next year, giving him another six years in the presidency.

The British government joined the US in condemning the attack, saying it would hold Mr Mugabe responsible for the safety of all detained persons.

US state department spokesman Tom Casey said: "It is absolutely uncalled for and, unfortunately, certainly representative of the repressive nature of the Mugabe government that peaceful efforts to organise political groups and public demonstrations are suppressed and suppressed so brutally."

In contrast, South Africa's foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Momoepa said his government had no comment to make on the events.