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Activists released into custody of attorneys

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Police released dozens of bruised and bloodied opposition activists to the custody of their attorneys late Tuesday, while the country’s main opposition leader was treated at a hospital for injuries his lawyer said were the result of savage police beatings.The activists were ordered to return to court Wednesday morning after police took them from a hospital to the magistrates court in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday night for an unscheduled appearance, said Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the group. She said no state prosecutor or magistrate was at the court.”The fact that there was no prosecutor, no magistrate, no court officials – only police – says a lot,” she said. “It says that we are in a police state.”Mtetwa said about 12 of the 50 activists who had been arrested Sunday remained at a hospital, including main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.Tsvangirai, 54, and the other opposition figures were arrested at a prayer meeting in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe’s security forces and political supporters.Mtetwa said police forced Tsvangirai and many of her other clients to lay face down and then beat them savagely and repeatedly with truncheons both at the scene of the arrests and at police stations.She said the state intended to charge the activists with incitement to violence for holding the prayer meeting. Formal bail had not been granted to any of them, she said.”We do not know why we are going back to court, if there is a case against them or not,” she said.During a brief court appearance earlier Tuesday, the bruised and bandaged activists shuffled into the room, many singing and chanting in defiance of the heavy police presence. Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, stood but did not chant or sing.British Ambassador Andrew Pockock, who was in court, said the right side of Tsvangirai’s face was swollen, including his eyes. “It was damn barbaric,” the envoy told reporters.A crowd outside sang and waved the party’s open hand salute as Tsvangirai and about six other injured activists left. Tsvangirai, his soiled shirt almost completely unbuttoned, appeared disoriented as he walked slowly and boarded an emergency vehicle unaided. He was not among those who returned the salute.One activist was taken from court on a stretcher, two stumbled on crutches, and a young woman unable to walk was helped into an ambulance by paramedics.”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,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the activists.Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai’s party, also had head wounds, and Lovemore Madhuku, head of a militant reform group, suffered a broken arm.Police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush Sunday’s gathering by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups, in Harare’s western township of Highfield.Police shot and killed one opposition activist, identified as Gift Tandare. Two mourners were slightly injured Tuesday at his funeral in skirmishes with police, witnesses said.Among those arrested Sunday in Highfield were two journalists on assignment for The Associated Press, Harare freelance photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwahzi and freelance television producer Tendai Musiya. Both were also released from official custody but Musiya was still undergoing medical checks and was expected to return home shortly.”It’s been a grave mistake by government. This has done more for reunification of the opposition than formal talks could have done,” Pockock said.As the clampdown continued, police raided the main office of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on Tuesday.”Staff were harassed, threatened, some were slapped and beaten up. All offices were searched and fliers, files and some videotapes were seized,” the labor group said. Its financial administrator, Galileo Chirebvu, was taken away by police who said they were looking for “subversive material.”The federation has called for a national protest strike in April.U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Washington holds Mugabe and his government personally accountable for the safety of the detained activists.”We’re all deeply shocked and saddened that the government of Zimbabwe feels that it has to resort to such brutal tactics against its own people,” Dell said.He also expressed disappointment at what he called the passivity of neighboring states, including South Africa, in the face of the suffering of Zimbabweans.”One would hope that in the glaring light of the growing brutality of the Zimbabwean government, those states would finally feel moved to act. They can no longer deny that there is a real crisis on the way here,” Dell said.”It was not Britain, it was not Tony Blair who was out on the streets the other day beating his own people. That was the government of Zimbabwe in open warfare with its own population,” Dell told the BBC.South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad issued a statement urging the Zimbabwean government to ensure respect for the rule of law and the opposition to work toward “a climate that is conducive to finding a lasting solution” to the challenges facing Zimbabwe.The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it deplored the government’s “shamefully weak response,” while the South African Council of Churches said “the silence of the South African government is aggravating the situation.”U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour added her voice to mounting international criticism on Tuesday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Amnesty International and the human rights committee of the International Bar Association also have expressed concern and condemnation.The European Union condemned “the ongoing violent suppression of the freedom of opinion and of assembly, as well as of other fundamental rights.”Mugabe’s opponents blame the 83-year-old leader for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent – the highest in the world. They have demanded the ouster of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980.State radio Tuesday quoted Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu as saying opposition activists had attacked police and were to blame for the violence.Authorities suspected an “underground movement” of opponents was planning a violent campaign against the government, he said.Nathan Shamuyarira, chief spokesman for Mugabe’s ruling party, said Tsvangirai defied a police ban on Sunday’s meeting. “Tsvangirai really asked for the trouble in which he has found himself,” he told South African state television.—Associated Press Writer Celean Jacobson contributed to this report from Johannesburg, South Africa.


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