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leaders are accused in abductions
New York Times
March 28, 2007
JOHANNESBURG - Hundreds of Zimbabwean political
and civic advocates have been abducted and severely beaten in recent
days by unidentified assailants, government critics said Wednesday,
in dead-of-night assaults that appear to be part of a new government
campaign to smother rising unrest.
The attacks came to light on Wednesday after hundreds
of police officers raided the Harare headquarters of Zimbabwe's
main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and detained
its best-known leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and about 20 members.
Party officials said the police ransacked the offices, destroying
furniture and taking stacks of documents. Lawyers for some advocates
said they had been warned not to go to the central police station
in Harare, the capital, in search of their clients because of the
threat of violence against the lawyers. The government has repeatedly
denied any systematic repression of opposition members, saying it
has acted solely to root out crimes.
A police spokesman said Wednesday that the officers
were searching the opposition party's offices for firebombs. Zimbabwe's
news media have been filled in recent days with reports of firebomb
attacks on police stations, trains and stores, all of which the
government has attributed to the Movement for Democratic Change.
The opposition party has called the firebombing
reports lies, planted in the state-controlled news media to discredit
Zimbabwe's government was broadly criticized after
the police arrested and beat Mr. Tsvangirai and scores of other
political and civic advocates two weeks ago, after they sought to
hold what they described as a prayer meeting in Harare.
"The government of Zimbabwe has intensified its
brutal suppression of its own citizens in an effort to crush all
forms of dissent," Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director at Human
Rights Watch, said Wednesday, referring to the events of recent
weeks. Since those arrests, tensions have been high throughout Zimbabwe,
especially in the poor urban neighborhoods that are centers of government
Some political specialists in Harare said that the
abductions and beatings in recent days might signal a new and crucial
phase in Zimbabwe's economic and political crises, now more than
six years old.
economy is all but dysfunctional, with inflation exceeding 1,700
percent a year and rapidly increasing. Eight in 10
people are jobless, and a huge share of the 10 million or so citizens
survive on remittances from the 3 million Zimbabweans who have left
G. Mugabe, the 83-year-old autocrat who has led the nation since
it ended white rule 27 years ago, is battling a reinvigorated opposition
and a growing movement in his own party to oust him. He sought in
December to extend his legal rule by two years, to 2010,
but received an unprecedented rebuff from members of his party.
He has since said he would seek a full six-year term in the next
election, in 2008.
But broad elements of his party, the Zimbabwe African
National Union-Patriotic Front, are working to thwart his ambitions.
Local and international news agencies have reported widely that
some in Mr. Mugabe's party are negotiating with Mr. Tsvangirai's
opposition movement on a succession plan.
Given those power struggles, one Harare political
analyst said Wednesday, it is unclear whether the beatings of potential
political opponents are a governmentwide strategy or a narrower
effort by Mr. Mugabe's backers to shore up his remaining power.
"The state is behaving repressively on a very, very
wide scale, but is the state doing it, or a state within a state?"
the analyst said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
"I think there's good reason to believe there's a third force operating
No one knows
how many have been abducted, but advocates in Zimbabwe said the
victims have included political organizers, students, members of
civic groups and leaders of the Combined
Harare Residents Association, which has organized Harare's poor
neighborhoods to press for better city services.
Nelson Chamisa, the spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai's
faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, said that nearly
200 party workers and advocates had been seized in the last three
days, usually in raids on their homes after midnight.
In almost all documented cases, he said, the victims
were taken in unmarked vehicles to remote locations where they were
beaten, then abandoned. An unknown number of party members have
not turned up after being kidnapped, he said.
Among the abducted, he said, are two members of
the party's national executive committee, one of whom was kidnapped
with his wife, and a member of Zimbabwe's Parliament from Glenview,
a poor Harare neighborhood that is a locus of government opposition.
Mr. Chamisa was attacked last week at a check-in
counter at Harare's airport as he prepared to board a flight to
Europe for a political meeting. Four men with iron bars fractured
his skull and crushed an eye socket.
"It's state terrorism," he said.
who leads Zimbabwe's largest civic group, the National
Constitutional Assembly, said that at least 16 of his members
had been abducted in the last week. Most have since been hospitalized,
"The strategy is that any person who seems to be
active and who is perceived to be a mobilizer or local organizer
is targeted for abduction," he said. Violence against government
critics has been common in the past, particularly before elections,
but the latest abductions and beatings appear to be far more systematic
Arrests, beatings and abductions of civic and political
figures have mounted since the violent breakup of the so-called
prayer meeting on March 11. They appear to have quickened after
an important group of Mr. Mugabe's supporters, the Zimbabwe National
Liberation War Veterans Association, held a major meeting last weekend
in Harare to plot a strategy against Mr. Mugabe's critics, according
to advocates and a local journalist.
were members of a guerrilla army led in part by Mr. Mugabe that
won Zimbabwe's liberation from white rule in the 1970s.
When they became restive in the late 1990s, Mr. Mugabe sealed their
loyalty by granting them huge cash bonuses.
The war veterans were the muscle behind Mr. Mugabe's
decision in 2000 to seize the nation's 5,000 white-owned commercial
farms and redistribute them to political allies and landless peasants.
A Zimbabwean journalist contributed reporting from
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