Zimbabwe grabs opposition chief ahead of summit

By MacDonald Dzirutwe HARARE, Reuters

Police stormed the main Zimbabwean opposition party headquarters and arrested its leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday as African leaders gathered in Tanzania to debate Zimbabwe’s escalating political crisis.

Tsvangirai, who opposition spokesmen say was badly beaten after an earlier police crackdown this month, was among a number of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials held when heavily armed riot police entered the party’s Harare offices, the MDC said.

The arrests brought immediate condemnation from Britain, the former colonial power, and from the European Union.

Police said they had no information on the arrests, but confirmed officers were looking for people connected to a string of petrol bomb attacks which Mugabe’s government says are part of an opposition “terror” campaign to drive him from power.

Government sources said more people were likely to be arrested in the coming days, including opposition politicians and journalists the authorities accuse of trying to incite a military coup against Mugabe.

“Some people have just gone too far, talking and writing recklessly and they are going to be held to account,” one source said.

The raid increased pressure on African leaders to use a special summit beginning in Tanzania on Wednesday to censure Mugabe, who has faced a firestorm of criticism for violently cracking down on opponents of his 27-year rule.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was among the first to criticize the latest arrests, saying the government appeared determined to intimidate.

“I strongly urge Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime to heed the calls made by so many of the international community and their African neighbors to stop the oppression of the Zimbabwean people and respect their human rights,” she said in a statement.

European Union president Germany said it was “deeply concerned” at the arrests while the European Parliament said it was time to end the “brutality” in Zimbabwe.

“The Southern African community has to react,” said Glenys Kinnock, who chairs the joint EU-Africa, Caribbean, Pacific parliamentary assembly.