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Organized Political Violence Growing in Zimbabwe, says Rights Group

Organized political violence in Zimbabwe rose dramatically last month, according to a report from human rights monitors.

The latest monthly report from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum says nearly 300 people were arrested in April without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. This was more than in any single month since the presidential elections last year.

The report says some of the violence was government retribution for two general strikes, one called by the opposition and the second by the trade unions. Both strikes paralyzed commerce and industry in most of the country.

The Human Rights Forum says the latest organized political violence accompanied two by-elections in the Harare area, both won by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The Human Rights Forum has repeatedly said it only documents cases brought to its attention and the incidence of torture and arbitrary arrest is massively underreported.

It says that it investigated 79 cases of torture in April, up from 12 in March. One opposition activist died from injuries he allegedly sustained while in police custody.

Meanwhile, public pressure is growing on Zimbabwe's opposition to take to the streets again. The Movement for Democratic Change says it is planning what it describes as its final push to force President Robert Mugabe to leave office. It has not said what this action will be, but most political observers believe it will combine strikes with street protests across the country.

The unrest and resulting violence by activists and police is being caused in part by continuing severe economic problems in Zimbabwe.

According to government statistics, inflation has risen to 260 percent, the highest in Africa. But private sector accountants said this week the real figure is double that.

There is also a severe fuel shortage. On weekdays Zimbabwe's roads, including those in the heart of the cities, are now quiet, with parking available anywhere. Many of the country's vehicles can be seen in fuel queues.

The black market rate of the Zimbabwe dollar has dropped by another 30 percent in the past week. According to the state controlled media, government agencies are trying to buy up all the foreign currency they can find to pay for fuel and electricity. The state media says this has resulted in the further devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar to more than 2,000 to one U.S. dollar.

Food shortages have left more than half the population relying on food aid to survive. And now, the Commercial Farmers Union says production of winter crops would drop by more than 50 percent, because the top cereal growers have been evicted from their farms. The Union says the few hundred remaining cannot find fertilizer or fuel.