Ruling party violence alleged in Zimbabwe

The Baltimore Sun

Johannesburg, South Africa -- Nyasha Putana could not help crying in pain as ruling party supporters used sticks to whack his buttocks and soles of his feet in front of hundreds of fellow villagers.

At least five people died from beatings at Monday's "political meeting" at Dakudzwa village, about 60 miles north of Harare, in Mashonaland, according to witnesses, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a human rights worker who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"They were saying, 'We are saving the country by pain,'" said Putana, 32, speaking softly from his hospital bed in Harare yesterday. "I cried. It was very painful. Right now, I can't walk. I can't even stand."

Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, which is logging victims of Zimbabwe's political violence, estimates that thousands of people have been injured in attacks and beatings targeted at opposition activists since the March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections. About 700 people are known to have been treated by doctors, according to the group.

The violence is "actually getting worse," Tendai Biti, the MDC's secretary general, said yesterday. He said three opposition supporters had been shot and killed Tuesday, and he accused President Robert G. Mugabe of using the period before the runoff "to continue executing his coup d'etat against the constitution."

The MDC says that 24 of its activists have been killed in postelection violence.

The violence is concentrated in rural Mashonaland and Manicaland, traditional ruling party strongholds that swung their support to the MDC in the election. The ruling ZANU-PF lost control of parliament and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes in the presidential election but did not receive the 50 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff.

During the Monday incident, about 100 ZANU-PF supporters arrived at dawn, ordering people from their houses in Dakudzwa and seven other nearby villages to a central point near the Catholic church, according to witnesses interviewed by the Los Angeles Times by phone. About 400 villagers were gathered outside the church.

"They started telling us, 'We're not going to do anything, we're just campaigning. You're not supposed to vote for the opposition party. If you are opposed to the ruling party, you should come up and confess and we won't do anything to you,'" said Rebecca Vela. "More than 10 confessed; they all got beaten. The women were beaten naked."

The date for a runoff election between Tsvangirai and Mugabe has not yet been announced, but the United States, Britain and human rights activists in Zimbabwe have questioned the practicality of a second round of voting in an atmosphere of mounting violence.

A South African government representative on the South African Development Community's regional observer team, Kingsley Mambolo, said it was not possible to hold a runoff under the current circumstances. He said each side blamed the other for the violence.

Robyn Dixon writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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