HARARE, ZIMBABWE — President Robert Mugabe on Thursday told Western countries to "go hang" after a barrage of international criticism over charges that an opposition leader was assaulted in police custody.
Opposition officials say police tortured Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and several other opposition and civic group leaders Sunday after they tried to attend a prayer vigil in a Harare township.
But the government has suggested that Tsvangirai and his group resisted arrest and on Thursday accused opposition supporters of waging a militia-style campaign of violence to topple Mugabe.
"It's the West as usual ... when they criticize the government trying to prevent violence and punish the perpetrators of that violence, we take the position that they can go hang," Mugabe said.
The United States dismissed Mugabe's comments as an attempt to paint himself as a victim, and Britain said it was trying to press the United Nations and European Union for a tough response to Harare's crackdown on the opposition.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told reporters in London that Britain wanted direct action against those responsible for the detentions and beatings of Tsvangirai and others.
The 83-year-old Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has frequently called the MDC a puppet party sponsored by the West.
"Here are groups of persons who went out of their way to effect a campaign of violence and we hear no criticism at all of those actions of violence, none at all," Mugabe said.
Police said three officers were badly hurt late Tuesday when suspected opposition supporters threw gasoline bombs at a Harare police station.