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Dozens of Anti-Government Activists Detained, Beaten in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, dozens of anti-government activists have been jailed and beaten following a police crackdown on an attempted gathering Sunday in which one protester was shot dead. Lawyers for the activists say they have been denied access to their clients. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

Lawyers for the detained activists Monday said they tried to visit their clients in 10 police stations around the capital, Harare, but were only allowed to see some of them from afar.

One of the lawyers, Otto Saki of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said many opposition leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku were severely injured.

"Some of them are in bandages," he said. "Some of them have got casts on their arms like Lovemore Madhuku. Morgan Tsvangarai, you can hardly make out his special features because he is swollen all over. And then he passed out three times because they were beating him up."

Saki said half-a-dozen other opposition leaders had been detained but their lawyers have not been allowed to consult with them and have not been told what offenses they were arrested for.

Police made the arrests Sunday as they dispersed what was billed as a prayer rally organized by an alliance of opposition politicians, church, student and civic groups.

The activists were protesting economic decline and political repression under the government of President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean government has banned political demonstrations but organizers said this was a religious gathering.

There was no government comment but news agencies quoted a police spokesman as saying the activists were arrested for instigating people to commit acts of violence. Organizers denied the charge and said their struggle would continue.

Human rights lawyer Saki said his group was appealing to a high court judge for access to the detainees and for their release, but he was not optimistic.

"The law unfortunately, it has been used in this instance not as a tool of prosecution but as a tool of persecution," he said.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing rising labor unrest and anti-government protests due to rising unemployment, food shortages and inflation which has reached 1,700 percent per year.

The political climate intensified recently when Mr. Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980, indicated he would stand for re-election next year.