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Zimbabwean Opposition Leaders Sent to Hospital Under Police Guard


Morgan Tsvangirai, the founder of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, arrived in a Harare court Tuesday with a badly swollen face and a large gash on his head. But when government officials told the court that the case against the opposition leaders was not yet ready, Tsvangirai and about 50 other detainees were taken under armed guard to a private hospital in Harare. Opposition lawyers have accused police of beating Tsvangirai and fellow detainees following their arrest on Sunday. Peta Thornycroft has more on the story for VOA from Harare.

Morgan Tsvangirai, in obvious pain, and with a line of stitches on his shaven head, arrived at the Harare Magistrate's court in the back of a large police truck at mid-day. He struggled to stay upright as he got out of the truck.

Police had defied a High Court order on Monday to allow him and fellow detainees access to their lawyers and medical doctors.

Tsvangirai and about 100 political leaders, civil rights activists and journalists were arrested Sunday when they tried to attend a banned prayer rally in Harare's Highfield township.

Officials of the Movement for Democratic Change, as well as some of those who arrived at court Tuesday, allege about 14 of those arrested Sunday were viciously tortured by police after they were taken into custody.

The case against all of them was postponed, as police did not have charges against the detainees ready for action.

The defense legal team wrangled with state court officials about the charges, and, eventually, Attorney General Gula Ndebele sent a message to the court saying all of those arrested and awaiting prosecution could be sent under police guard to a private Harare hospital. However, Tsvangerai refused to take an ambulance to hospital until all fellow detainees were offered the same treatment.

One activist, who had to be carried into court, lay writhing in agony on the floor of the packed court as officials were deliberating. Lawyers for the defendants eventually prevailed upon police to allow the man to be taken by a waiting ambulance to hospital. He was too weak to even whisper his name.

Elliot Mangoma, treasurer of Tsvangirai's faction of the opposition party, had a broken leg and had to be assisted into court. Grace Kwinjeh, a long-time activist, had a deep wound in her ear and her back was severely lacerated.

It is not known how many members of the opposition are still in police cells, but the people who were taken into court Tuesday are, for the moment, in hospital.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the incident shows the "ruthless and repressive" nature of the government of President Robert Mugabe and called for the release of the detained protesters.

British ambassador Andrew Pocock, who was at the court, described the wounds he saw as "ghastly."

He said the brutality inflicted on MDC executives and activists was worse than the torture suffered by trade unionists arrested in Harare last September as they about to begin an anti-proverty march.