Correction to This Article
A March 12 article incorrectly identified Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a robotics professor. Arthur Mutambara, another opposition leader, was a robotics professor.

Opposition Leaders Arrested in Zimbabwe

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 12, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, March 11 -- Zimbabwean police cracked down on a major anti-government rally near Harare on Sunday morning, shooting to death one activist and arresting dozens of others, including several of the country's most prominent opposition leaders, according to news reports.

The clash in Highfield, a township west of Harare, the capital, was the most serious violent encounter in several years between police and forces fighting to end the 26-year rule of President Robert Mugabe. Among those imprisoned was Morgan Tsvangirai, 55, a 2002 presidential candidate, robotics professor and leader of the largest bloc of Zimbabwe's fractured opposition.

Lawyers sought an urgent court order Sunday night to have Tsvangirai freed. A political ally and former member of parliament, Roy Bennett, said police had severely beaten Tsvangirai, who was in "very serious condition" with head injuries.

Bennett, speaking in Johannesburg after consulting with other opposition figures by phone, said Sunday's gathering was the beginning of mass protests against Mugabe's government under a newly formed Save Zimbabwe Coalition.

"This is what everybody's been building up to," said Bennett, who fled Zimbabwe a year ago. "It's the beginning of the end."

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police arrested opposition leaders after they "instigated people to come out and commit acts of violence" in Highfield, according to an Associated Press report from Harare. Bvudzijena said the clash began when 200 opposition party "thugs" attacked about 20 policemen. Three officers were hospitalized with injuries.

But opposition officials said hundreds of heavily armed police officers used tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition against youths armed with nothing more than rocks.

Tafadzwa Mugabe, from the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said from Harare that attorneys were denied access to Tsvangirai and the others who were arrested. Judges at the High Court of Harare declined to hear the case Sunday night but scheduled a hearing for Monday morning.

Mugabe, who is not related to the Zimbabwean president, said there had never been such a broad crackdown on opposition figures there. "In terms of magnitude and profile, I'd safely say it's unprecedented," he said.

Zimbabwe has been in economic decline for seven years. It has inflation of more than 1,700 percent, unemployment exceeding 80 percent and chronic shortages of such basics as gasoline, bread and cooking oil. Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe's ruler since the end of white-supremacist rule in 1980, has become increasingly authoritarian, sharply limiting political freedoms.

Bennett identified the person killed as Gift Tandare, a teenage party activist. A second party activist was in critical condition.

Zimbabwe's political struggle has been mostly nonviolent until recently, although fighting broke out last month at a rally in Highfield attended by Tsvangirai. Police last month decreed a three-month ban on all political meetings there.

The International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization based in Brussels, reported last week that the crisis in Zimbabwe was nearing its conclusion because of deepening splits in Mugabe's ruling party, but warned that spontaneous violence could erupt.

The opposition has been severely split as well. There are now two rival factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, the group Tsvangirai helped found. The leader of the other faction, Arthur Mutambara, also was arrested Sunday, as was Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly, which also opposes Mugabe's rule.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company