Police in Zimbabwe Wednesday raided the headquarters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and arrested a dozen party leaders. Party officials said Tsvangirai was among those detained, but police denied the charge and the dissident leader later told VOA's Studio-7 that he had been released. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg that the detentions come amid a violent crackdown on opposition activists.
A spokesman for Morgan Tsvangirai's faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, George Sibotshiwe, says police raided the party headquarters midday Wednesday as officials were holding a series of meetings.
"The police just came and raided the offices and took away all the staff including Morgan Tsvangirai in an open police truck. That's all the information that we have. We are not aware of their whereabouts. We are actually looking for them," he said.
A party statement said Tsvangirai was due to hold a news conference on what was termed the escalating campaign of violence and intimidation by the Zimbabwean government.
The detentions come as President Robert Mugabe was to fly to Tanzania for a summit meeting of the Southern Africa Development Community.
Leaders of the 14-nation group called the meeting two weeks ago after Zimbabwean security forces detained and severely beat several dozen opposition leaders, including Tsvangirai, who were preparing to hold an anti-government rally.
The Zimbabwean government accused the opposition of trying to destabilize the country and Mr. Mugabe later said the crackdown would continue as long as the opposition continues its activities.
Spokesman Sibotshiwe says Zimbabwean security forces have detained dozens of MDC leaders in recent days and more than 200 party activists. Some subsequently have been found beaten far from their homes. Others still are not accounted for.
"These sort of activities have been happening in the past few days," he said. "They have been targeting specific MDC leaders and picking them up from various points."
He added that he did not know the reasons for the detentions but said they seemed to be part of a general crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
Popular discontent has been rising in Zimbabwe due to economic hardships caused by food shortages, rampant inflation and high unemployment.
Senior leaders of the ruling ZANU-PF party are due to meet later this week to discuss a proposal by Mr. Mugabe to extend his presidential term by two years until parliamentary elections in 2010.