Mugabe Opponents Seized in Police Raid

Police round up supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, the party of leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Police round up supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, the party of leader Morgan Tsvangirai. (Associated Press)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 26, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 25 -- Dozens of helmeted riot police on Friday raided Zimbabwe's opposition party headquarters, seizing computers, ransacking offices and arresting hundreds of activists as President Robert Mugabe's crackdown against his political foes intensified.

Witnesses said police carried off two busloads of activists, most of whom had taken refuge in the dingy downtown office building after being beaten and tortured by ruling party militias in recent days. The police carried out simultaneous raids on the home and office of the head of an election-observer mission that had concluded Mugabe was defeated in the March 29 presidential vote.

The morning raid brought the brutal government crackdown unfolding across Zimbabwe's battered countryside into the heart of the capital, and it came a day after the top U.S. envoy for Africa asserted that Mugabe had lost the election outright and should leave office after 28 years in power.

The official results of the presidential vote have yet to be released, although Mugabe's ruling party lost the parliamentary election and has acknowledged getting fewer votes than opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The only question is whether Tsvangirai won the majority needed to avoid a runoff election.

In the increasingly violent limbo, Mugabe's security forces and party followers have rampaged across Zimbabwe, burning homes and beating opposition activists from the Movement for Democratic Change, who have been streaming into the capital in search of protection.

Wielding batons and shields, the police arrived at the headquarters building, known as Harvest House, around 11:30 a.m. in a large truck, two pickups and a bus, swiftly rounding up those gathered there.

Andrew Makoni, a human rights lawyer who spoke from a police station here Friday night, said police detained 215 people in the raid. He said many were limping or wearing casts from previous injuries as they were sent in small groups to holding cells throughout Harare, terrified of being forced back to the countryside controlled by Mugabe.

"They left their homes because of violence," Makoni said. "And now they are in the hands of police."

Hundreds of riot police were posted at intersections across the city. Empty of people after the raid, Harvest House contained only a few stacked blankets and bloodied bandages. The air carried the stench of urine -- testimony to the crush of refugees that had overwhelmed the building's capacity in recent weeks.

"It was shocking," said Teresa Mano, a witness to the raid. "I saw them shoving injured people into the bus and trucks. They were brutal. Those that refused were beaten by batons. Pregnant women were being dragged to the trucks. There were babies screaming all over the place. You would think they were dealing with hard-core criminals."

Tendai Biti, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, said the raid also may have been an effort to destroy evidence of the opposition victory. In the days after the election, handwritten results for individual polling stations and electoral districts were posted across the country. All were recorded and many were photographed by the opposition party.

"Harvest House is just a more visible expression of what he's been doing in the rural areas, where there are no televisions and no telephones," Biti said. "He's a cruel man. This is revenge for losing the elections."

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