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crackdown widens to reach opposition grass roots
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
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
"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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