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US Considers Action Against Zimbabwe After Arrests


The Bush administration says it is considering new sanctions against Zimbabwe following the arrests and beatings of opposition leaders. A senior State Department official will press for a stronger African response to the Harare government in talks in Addis Ababa Thursday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The government of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has become known in recent years for tough tactics against its political opponents.

But a senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters here said Sunday's violent assault on opposition figures by riot police near Harare was a "qualitatively different" act of repression, requiring a strong international response.

One protester was killed and scores of other opposition supporters were detained and beaten, as police broke up a banned rally in a Harare suburb.

The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, sustained an apparent skull fracture in a police beating and remains hospitalized.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the Bush administration is looking into what additional sanctions might be available to punish the Mugabe government, while sparing the country's largely impoverished population.

Leading figures in the Harare government already face U.S. travel and financial sanctions for past election abuses, but Casey said there are still tools available to be considered by the administration.

Casey said the ferocity of Sunday's assault on the opposition should provoke a broad international response, especially with the Zimbabwe heading into elections next year.

"To have so blatantly and so violently taken actions against the principal leaders of the opposition, I think really shows the international community that the regime has little intention - without additional efforts on all our parts - to make the upcoming electoral campaign be one in which it's possible to have a free and fair contest, and one in which the people's voice can be heard," he said.

The 83-year-old Mr. Mugabe originally proposed pushing back next year's presidential election until 2010, which would have given him an extra two years in office.

More recently Mr. Mugabe, who has run the country since 1980, has suggested he might stand for re-election next year, meaning he could be in office through 2014.

Tsvangerai lost a presidential contest to Mr. Mugabe in 2002 in an election widely believed to have been rigged by the government.

Spokesman Casey said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron has put Zimbabwe at the top of his agenda for previously-scheduled talks at the African Union in Addis Ababa Thursday.

The Zimbabwean crackdown has drawn relatively-mild criticism from South Africa and other key countries in the region and U.S. officials say a stronger response is called for.

The official media in Zimbabwe have accused opposition politicians of provoking Sunday's events, and Mr. Mugabe warned Wednesday they would pay a heavy price for what he said was a campaign of violence to oust his government from power.

State Department spokesman Casey said the Mugabe remarks are "just in keeping" with the intimidation and repression that have characterized his "increasingly autocratic" rule.

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