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Zimbabwe's crackdown widens to reach opposition grass roots
Michael Wines, New York Times
March 20, 2007

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JOHANNESBURG, March 19 — There were indications on Monday that the Zimbabwean government’s violent crackdown on its political critics was spreading from widely reported assaults on opposition leaders to less public attacks and threats against local activists and their supporters.

In Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, a civic group reported a series of attacks on Sunday and Monday on neighborhood activists and local leaders of the nation’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

The group, the Combined Harare Residents Association, reported assaults on two political activists, one of whom was shot, and arrests and threats against two others.

The group’s spokesman, Precious Shumba, said in an interview that there were reports of beatings of others who had been taken outside the city by police officers, then arrested. Those reports could not be independently verified.

But one of the nation’s leading advocates of political reform, Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, said Monday in a telephone interview that the violence was growing.

"There is some systematic following of all key activists and trying to intimidate them, either by making them run away from their homes or beating them up," he said.

Mr. Madhuku suffered head wounds and a broken arm in beatings after he was arrested for taking part in what purported to be a prayer meeting on March 11.

Separately, Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer with clients in the antigovernment groups, said in an interview that human rights lawyers had been warned by sympathizers in the police force that they had also been singled out for government retribution.

"What they will do to the lawyers, we do not know," she said, "but we can only assume it is what has been done to the politicians."

Zimbabwe has been in turmoil for nearly six weeks, since an antigovernment rally in southern Harare, violently disrupted by police officers, grew into a near-riot that spread through one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Antigovernment groups allied under the banner of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign were attacked by riot police officers at the March 11 meeting, sending at least 50 people to hospitals. The government’s tactics were widely condemned.

President Robert G. Mugabe has adamantly rejected that criticism, saying that his critics are simply receiving the beatings they deserve for trying to foment violence.

In a meeting on Monday, Mr. Mugabe’s foreign minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, threatened to expel Western diplomats who have praised the opposition, saying that the Vienna Convention bars foreign governments from interfering in the affairs of host nations.

The American ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher W. Dell, walked out of the meeting, news reports said.

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