Beaten Zimbabwe opposition leader taken to hospital

By MacDonald Dzirutwe HARARE, Reuters

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sent to hospital with a deep head wound and swollen face on Tuesday after he arrived at court with dozens of others arrested during political protests.

Tsvangirai, who had a partly shut eye and was limping, said that he had suffered “terrible” treatment in police custody.

“It was sadistic to attack defenceless people,” he told journalists outside the Harare court.

Several other opposition detainees had to be carried into the court and some sat on the floor. One wore blood-stained shirt and all appeared dirty, dishevelled and tired.

State lawyer Florence Ziyambi ordered that the accused be taken to hospital for treatment. “I am confirming now that anybody who needs medical attention should go and access it now,” Ziyambi said.

Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was bundled by riot police into a minibus for treatment. Around 50 other injured detainees were taken away in ambulances. Rights groups say Tsvangirai and other protesters were tortured after they were arrested on Sunday during a prayer meeting organised by a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups to address Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis.

Police had ordered organisers to scrap the meeting, apparently worried that the opposition was launching a street campaign to oust President Robert Mugabe.

One man was shot dead when riot squads moved in to crush the rally. It was the second time in a month police had battled opposition youths in the capital.

Critics say Mugabe has mismanaged Zimbabwe’s economy and violated human rights, sending the once-prosperous nation into a crisis marked by inflation of over 1,700 percent, unemployment of more than 80 percent and chronic shortages of food and fuel.

The crushing of the protest prompted widespread international condemnation of Mugabe and his government.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on Tuesday demanded the release of all the detainees and said she held Mugabe responsible for Tsvangirai’s safety.

“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,” Rice said in a statement.

In power since independence in 1980, the 83-year-old Mugabe has said he will seek another term if asked by the ruling ZANU-PF party, whether elections are held as planned in 2008 or delayed for two years, state media reported on Monday.

“We have gone back to an apartheid-type system (in Zimbabwe), where you are seeing severe repression, severe abuse of human rights,” Roy Bennett, a former MDC legislator living in South Africa, said during an anti-Mugabe rally in Johannesburg.

Nathan Shamuyarira, a spokesman for Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, said Tsvangirai had been intent on getting arrested in order to garner support from Western powers.

Mugabe frequently blames Zimbabwe’s economic problems on sabotage from Britain and other Western nations.