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Lawyers say Zimbabwean opposition targeted

Top opposition leaders were assaulted and tortured by police who broke up a prayer meeting planned to protest government policies, colleagues of the activists said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Top opposition leaders were assaulted and tortured by police who broke up a prayer meeting planned to protest government policies, colleagues of the activists said Monday.

One protester was shot dead by police in Sunday's unrest in the outskirts of the capital and scores of others were arrested. Journalists trying to cover the events also were arrested.

In a statement, organizers of the prayer meeting, an alliance of opposition, civic, church leaders and student and anti-government groups, said lawyers who visited the detainees Monday reported the main opposition party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, fainted three times after being beaten by police.

The alliance, called the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, said another opposition leader, Lovemore Madhuku, was taken to the main Harare hospital early Monday after collapsing from police assaults.

At least four other opposition and civic leaders were beaten and tortured in custody, the campaign said.

"The police thoroughly assaulted leaders of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign while in custody," the group said.

The alliance said lawyers were still trying to establish the whereabouts of all those picked up by police, saying some were denied food or legal advice.

No comment was immediately available from police on Monday.

Mugabe under fire
Opponents of President Robert Mugabe blame him for acute food shortages, deepening economic woes, record inflation of some 1,600 percent — the highest in the world — and repression and corruption.

They have demanded the ouster of Mugabe, 83, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980. Fliers for Sunday's prayer meeting proclaimed: "Zimbabwe Will Be Saved."

"Our just, legitimate and peaceful struggle will not cease," the alliance said Monday.

On Sunday, police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police arrested Tsvangirai and other top party officials as they "instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence."

He said one man was shot and killed when 200 opposition party "thugs" attacked about 20 policemen. The organizers identified the dead protester as Gift Tandare, an activist of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Police spokesman Bvudzijena told state television that three police officers were hospitalized with injuries in the violence.

Prayer meeting called violation of law
Authorities had declared the prayer meeting to be in breach of a three-month ban on political demonstrations. Riot and paramilitary police reinforcements, which had been deployed since Friday in the area where the prayer meeting was scheduled, sealed off approaches to a sports ground and fired tear gas to disperse the gathering.

A Harare freelance photographer, Tsvangirayi Mukwahzi, and a freelance television producer, Tendai Nusiyu, were among the journalists arrested at the scene.

Bvudzijena, the police spokesman, alleged that demonstrators tried to use children as human shields against the police and had picked up tear gas canisters and lobbed them back at police. He gave no figures of the number of arrests.

In their statement, the prayer meeting organizers said police patrolled the area late into the night Sunday, injuring several people in efforts to clear the streets and impose a curfew in the township.