Police stormed the offices of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party Wednesday and arrested its leader hours before he planned to talk to reporters about a wave of political violence that had left him briefly hospitalized.
Party head Morgan Tsvangirai was taken along with other political opponents of President Robert Mugabe in a bus to an undisclosed location by officers who had sealed off approaches to his headquarters and fired tear gas to drive away onlookers, the party and witnesses said.
The Movement for Democratic Change said Tsvangirai had been scheduled to give a news conference on the government’s escalating violence against its political opponents.
“Tsvangirai and a number of others we have not been able to identify have been taken by police in a bus. We don’t know their whereabouts. We don’t know if they have been charged,” said Eliphas Mukonoweshuro, an aide to Tsvangirai.
Mukonoweshuro said police had searched the offices of Harvest House, the opposition headquarters in downtown Harare, after sealing off two nearby streets and firing tear gas.
The European Union said it viewed the arrest of Tsvangirai with “great concern,” said Jens Ploetner, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of EU president Germany.
Tsvangirai, 54, was arrested along with about 50 other people on March 11 following a prayer meeting organized by opposition, church, student and civic groups. Supporters said police smashed his head against a wall repeatedly. He suffered deep lacerations and swelling.
He left the hospital in a wheelchair on March 16.
“The EU president holds the leadership of Zimbabwe responsible for the bodily injury to Tsvangirai and calls for him to have immediate access to legal, and if necessary, medical consultation,” Ploetner said.
The EU demanded that the government respect human rights and its own laws in handling Tsvangirai.
Mugabe, 83, who has vowed to crush opposition to his rule, was to attend an emergency meeting of Southern African leaders in Tanzania on Wednesday focusing on the political turmoil in his country.
The crisis of governance and high-level corruption has led to the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with record inflation of 1,700 percent, the highest in the world, and acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and essential imports.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which is linked to the opposition, has called for a national protest strike in early April, ahead of Zimbabwe’s 27th anniversary of independence.