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Zimbabwe Doctors Treat 250 After Alleged Gov't Reprisals - 2003-03-23

Many people were being treated in a private clinic in Harare, claiming they are victims of reprisals by government forces for last week's general strike called by the opposition. More than 250 injured people have been treated since Friday at one hospital alone.

The scene in the emergency room of a private hospital in Central Harare is shocking.

One woman, Sonia Kulinjiwas, was bent over double in pain. She said she was sexually assaulted with the butt of a rifle early Sunday at her home in Mabvuku, east of Harare.

Down the corridor, her daughter Margaret, a mother of two, was in too much pain to speak.

A white woman lying on a stretcher said she was attacked late Saturday in an upmarket suburb, by five men wearing Zimbabwe National Army uniforms. The woman, Sharon Nel, said she was stripped naked, beaten and thrown around. Speaking with difficulty, Mrs. Nel said her attackers said they were going to rape her, but she shouted at them that she is infected with HIV/AIDS, and they decided not to.

A doctor in the emergency services department at the hospital, who asked not to be named, said at least 250 people have been treated since Friday. The doctor said most of the injuries were broken bones, but the hospital was too busy to provide statistics.

The doctor said several of those treated had had their fingers and toes broken, and one man was admitted because both his legs were broken.

The surge in violence allegedly committed by government operatives follows sharp criticism of the opposition by President Robert Mugabe on Friday. The president called the opposition a terrorist organization, and that it would be crushed. He said the two-day general strike last week organized by the opposition was aimed at overthrowing his government. He vowed there would be greater action by the government and that the opposition would no longer be treated with what he called soft gloves.

Police say they do not know how many people are in detention after the strike, but human rights lawyers say many people are missing, and many others have been held without being brought to court within 48 hours as required.