Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, says union leaders beaten in police custody got what they deserved. The union leaders were detained earlier this month, when they tried to organize a protest against the worsening economic situation.

Police arrested the leadership of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) when they turned up for the protest on September 13. Some of those arrested were subject to severe assaults, while in police custody resulting in some sustaining broken bones.

Zimbabwe's official Herald newspaper on Monday quoted Mr. Mugabe as saying the union leaders got the treatment they deserved. State media said he made the statement in Cairo, where he stopped over on his way home from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

Mr. Mugabe described the actions of the labor leaders as playing to the gallery to get attention, in an attempt to oust him. He accused the union leaders of inviting what he dismissed as "stupid journalists" who always write "stupid things" and some non-governmental organizations to publicize the protest to attract intervention by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bush.

The attacks on the union leaders have been criticized by Western governments and labor organizations from all over the world.

The ZCTU had called the marches to demand a wage on par with the poverty line in Zimbabwe's hyper-inflationary environment among other demands.

The police cordoned off the starting point of the march, and arrested the labor leaders as soon as they arrived there. They were brutally assaulted and denied access to medical care for two days.

ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibebe, still recuperating from injuries he sustained during the beatings, told VOA they would have been surprised if Mr. Mugabe had reacted otherwise. He said the attacks would not deter the workers' body from engaging in further action to highlight the plight of Zimbabwean workers.