There was more U.S. criticism Thursday of the Zimbabwe government's handling of opposition demonstrations and work stoppages. The State Department appealed for an urgent and unconditional dialogue between President Robert Mugabe's ruling party and the opposition for an end to the country's political and economic crisis.

The State Department leveled another verbal blast at the Mugabe government's handling of the nationwide protests, saying it has responded to peaceful attempts at public protests with "an ongoing wave of violence and brutality."

Spokesman Philip Reeker said hundreds of opposition supporters have been arrested and dozens injured in beatings administered by security agents, war veterans and youth brigades that have been integrated with the country's once non-political security forces.

He called on the Harare government to allow peaceful protests and cease human rights abuses and he urged political forces including the ruling ZANU-P.F. party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to enter into unconditional dialogue to address the country's crisis.

Mr. Reeker said the international community must continue to defend human rights and political reform in Zimbabwe and said concerted action by African states, in particular, is vital to achieving political change and economic recovery there.