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Mugabe rivals appear in court

March 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Police released dozens of bruised and bloodied opposition activists to the custody of their attorneys late Tuesday, and Zimbabwe's main opposition leader was treated at a hospital for injuries that his lawyer said were the result of police beatings.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, and the other opposition figures had been arrested Sunday at a prayer meeting before an anti-government protest rally, in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe's security forces and political supporters.

During a brief court appearance Tuesday before their release, the activists shuffled into the room, many singing and chanting in defiance of the heavy police presence.

Tsvangirai, 54, stood but did not chant or sing. His right eye was swollen shut and his head was partly shaved to reveal crudely stitched gashes.

British Ambassador Andrew Pockock, who was in court, told reporters, "It was damn barbaric."

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 along 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 U.S. 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 took the activists from a hospital Tuesday night back to the magistrates court in Harare, the capital, for an unscheduled appearance, and they were ordered to return to court today, said Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the group. She said no state magistrate was at the court.

Mtetwa said about 12 of the 50 activists who had been arrested Sunday remained at a hospital, including Tsvangirai.

Mtetwa said police forced Tsvangirai and many of the activists to lie face down and then beat them 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. She said none had been granted formal bail.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush a gathering Sunday 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.

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