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'Torture and violence are surging in Zim'

Staff Reporter

Supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF have set up a network of torture camps where they have been assaulting opposition activists, a leading rights group said on Saturday. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that suspected supporters of the opposition were being rounded up and then beaten.

Supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF have set up a network of torture camps where they have been assaulting opposition activists, a leading rights group said on Saturday.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that suspected supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were being rounded up and then beaten for several hours at a time with wooden sticks and batons in the wake of last month’s disputed elections.

“Torture and violence are surging in Zimbabwe,” Human Rights Watch’s Africa director Georgette Gagnon said in a new report.

“Zanu-PF members are setting up torture camps to systematically target, beat and torture people suspected of having voted for the MDC in last month’s elections.”

The organisation said that it had conducted interviews with more than 30 people who had sustained serious injuries, including broken limbs, as a result of the beatings in the camps.

The aim of the beatings was to punish people for voting for the opposition in the March 29 polls and coerce them into supporting Mugabe in a possible second round run-off, HRW added.

HRW said the camps could not operate without the complicity of senior officials and accused governments from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of failing to bring pressure to bear on Mugabe.

“SADC and [South African President] President Thabo Mbeki have completely failed Zimbabweans, and are allowing Zanu-PF to commit horrific abuses,” said Gagnon.

Mbeki, who was reappointed at a SADC summit last week to mediate between Zanu-PF and the opposition, has been heavily criticised over his refusal to publicly upbraid the 84-year-old Mugabe.

The results of the presidential election, in which Mugabe was seeking a sixth term in office, have still to be announced.

Recount

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe held a partial recount on Saturday of votes from last month’s general election as MDC accused Mugabe and his party of trying to rig their way back to power.

The MDC won control of Parliament in the March 29 polls but the recount could end up with Zanu-PF party regaining its majority.

“We expect them to complete the recount within the next three to four days,” electoral commission chairperson George Chiweshe said as his staff began sifting through ballot papers.

Chiweshe ordered the recount after Zanu-PF complained about a string of irregularities in the constituencies.

After the opposition failed in a legal bid on Friday to halt the process, electoral commission officials began recounting on Saturday morning in each of the constituencies in the presence of party agents and foreign monitors.

The opposition MDC, which currently has 109 seats against 97 for Zanu-PF, has long regarded the nominally independent commission as a pro-government body and sees the recount as a ploy to steal back control of parliament.

“We will not recognise the outcome of the so-called recount,” chief party spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

“That’s an illegal process. Whatever they are doing we will not recognise it, and it is their own rigging process.”

The lack of results from the presidential election has not prevented Zanu-PF from declaring there will be a run-off and has backed Mugabe as its candidate.—AFP

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