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US 'Shocked' Over Zimbabwe Political Violence

The U.S. State Department is expressing shock over police violence Sunday against leaders of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. It urged the release of detained opposition leaders as quickly as possible. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has been a persistent critic of the Zimbabwe government's treatment of dissidents, but it is using some of its strongest language to date to condemn the violent crackdown on protesters Sunday.

Reports from Harare say police killed one activist, severely beat several others, and arrested more than 100 as they blocked opposition groups from holding what was described as a prayer meeting in the capital.

Two prominent opposition figures, including Morgan Tsvangirai, a past election challenger of President Robert Mugabe, reportedly sustained head wounds and other injuries in the police attack.

The State Department, in a written statement late Sunday, called the government actions brutal and unwarranted.

In a follow-up talk with reporters Monday, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the police violence was absolutely uncalled-for, yet representative of the brutal way in which the Mugabe government deals with dissent.

"We are shocked by the reports of injuries to a number of opposition leaders and we certainly call on the government of Zimbabwe to provide all medical treatment necessary to any of these individuals and to release them as quickly as possible," Casey said. "This is unfortunately, again, just another example of the increasingly harsh treatment that those wishing to express their views - particularly those wishing to express opposition political views - face under President Mugabe's leadership."

Spokesman Casey said Zimbabwe in the past few years has seen an increase in threats, repression, intimidation and acts of violence against anyone who tries to stand in President Mugabe's way.

He said what the country needs is free and fair elections, but that it is hard to imagine that occurring under circumstances in which Mr. Mugabe is either a candidate or in which his government is administering the vote.

The 83-year-old president, who has run the country since 1980, has suggested he might step down after his current terms ends.

But his ruling party has sought to postpone presidential elections due next year until 2010, which would potentially give him another two years in office.

Sunday's statement here said the United States holds President Mugabe and his government accountable for Sunday's police actions, and for the safety and well-being of those in custody.