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Southern Africa Critical of Mugabe Crackdown

Southern Africa leaders are meeting the Tanzanian capital in special session called to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe and recent political events in the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

The meeting in Dar Es Salaam is being held against the backdrop a renewed crackdown by the Zimbabwe government on members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Senior opposition officials were arrested and brutally beaten by police. Dozens of mid-level activists have been detained and beaten before being released.

President Robert Mugabe seemed confident as he arrived in Tanzania, but the meeting is unlikely to be a comfortable experience for the 83-year-old ruler.

The head of the Capetown-based Transitional Justice-in-Africa Program, Brian Raftopoulos, told VOA regional leaders are losing patience with the deteriorating political situation in Zimbabwe, and in recent weeks some have shifted from private censure to public criticism.

"On the other hand, there is clearly a realization in SADC that this is no longer a sufficient position for him to take and one needs to find a way beyond the rhetorical excesses of Mugabe," he said.

Speaking during a special debate on Zimbabwe in South Africa's parliament Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sue van der Merwe said that an absence of open political dialogue in Zimbabwe is sinking the country ever deeper into political crisis. Van der Merwe said her government disapproved of the actions of the security forces against Zimbabwean opposition leaders in recent weeks, and urged Harare to respect the human rights of Zimbabwean citizens.

The meeting of 11 regional leaders, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, is being chaired by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The Southern Africa Development Community has asked Mr. Kikwete, along with heads of Namibia and Angola, to take the lead in dealing with the Zimbabwe crisis.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe police said they seized weapons and ammunition Wednesday in a raid at the MDC offices and the homes of some of the opposition party's leaders. Dozens of people were arrested in the raids, and police also confiscated computers. The raids followed a series of bombings, mostly at police stations around the country.

The secretary-general of the Morgan Tsvangerai faction of the MDC, Tendai Biti, denied his party is stockpiling weapons or engages in acts of terror, and he repudiated suggestions it is behind the bombings.