Aide to Zimbabwean opposition leader assaulted
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The spokesman for Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader was assaulted by security forces as he tried to leave the country Sunday, an opposition official said, accusing the government of continuing to target dissident activists.President Robert Mugabe’s government is under increasing international criticism for its treatment of the country’s opposition. Activists say the government has been disrupting their gatherings and beating and detaining their leaders.Three opposition activists allegedly assaulted when police broke up a March 11 protest meeting were re-arrested at Harare International Airport Saturday.Nelson Chamisa, an aide to Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was assaulted at the airport Sunday as he was trying to leave for a meeting of the European Union and other countries in Brussels, Belgium, the party’s secretary-general, Tendai Biti, said from Johannesburg.”He was beaten on the head with iron bars. There was blood all over his face. He is in a critical condition at a private hospital in Harare,” Biti said.Tsvangirai said the crisis in Zimbabwe had reached a decisive moment.”Things are bad,” Tsvangirai told the British Broadcasting Corp., “but I think that this crisis has reached a tipping point, and we could see the beginning of the end of this dictatorship in whatever form.”Mugabe, meanwhile, accused the opposition of being terrorists supported by Britain and the West.In Saturday’s arrests, injured activists Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland were prevented from leaving to receive medical care abroad. The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa said in a statement Sunday that Holland, 64, was completely immobilized on her left side, and had multiple fractures including a broken arm and leg and three broken ribs. She has undergone an operation on a fracture in her left ankle and has severe bruising causing internal complications, the group said.Arthur Mutambara, leader of an opposition faction, was also arrested at the airport Saturday.A lawyer for Mutambara, Harrison Nkomo, said Sunday his client was being kept at the Harare central police station, and that he was being charged with inciting public violence in relation to last week’s incident.Nkomo said lawyers were to apply to the High Court Monday morning for an urgent interdict to have him released.The director of the Open Society Initiative, Tawanda Mutasah, said that Kwinje and Holland had tried to travel to Johannesburg to receive specialist post-traumatic care.The women’s passports were taken and they were told they needed clearance from the Department of Health. They were later allowed to return to a clinic under police guard.Zimbabwean police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush the March 11 gathering, and beat activists during and after their arrests, according to opposition members.Police took the body of Gift Tandare, an activist who had been shot dead during the crackdown, and performed their own burial, said Roy Bennett, the exiled treasurer-general of the Movement for Democratic Change. Tandare’s father was forced to release his son’s body into police custody while the family was preparing for the funeral, he said.The latest violence has drawn new attention to a deteriorating situation in the southern African country, where the increasingly autocratic Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent – the highest in the world.Mugabe, 83, has rejected the international condemnation following the arrests and alleged beating, lashing out at critics and telling them to “go hang,” and he vowed to crackdown on further protests.Speaking at a ceremony to mark International Women’s Day in Harare on Saturday, Mugabe accused the opposition party of resorting to violence sponsored by former colonial power Britain and other Western allies to oust his government, a newspaper reported Sunday.”We have given too much room to mischief-makers and shameless stooges of the West. Let them and their masters know that we shall brook none of their lawless behavior,” Mugabe was quoted as saying in the Sunday Mail.”Scores of innocent people going about their legitimate business have fallen prey to terrorist attacks that are part of the desperate and illegal plot to unconstitutionally change the government of the country,” he said.