Hundreds of armed riot police in Zimbabwe used violence to break up a peaceful prayer meeting in Harare, the capital. One person, opposition activist Gift Tandare, was shot dead by police and many others were injured.
Morgan Tsvangirai, president of one faction of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, suffered a severe head wound sustained during a beating by police. Arthur Mutambara, another opposition leader, was arrested. Lovemore Madhuku, head of the civic group National Constitutional Assembly, was treated for a fractured arm and head wound.
"The United States," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those individuals detained by the government of Zimbabwe after its brutal attack March 11th on a prayer meeting." The U.S., said Secretary of State Rice, holds "President [Robert] Mugabe responsible for the safety and well-being of those in custody."
The recent prayer rally was called in response to the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. According to the official estimates, the annual rate of inflation in Zimbabwe now exceeds seventeen-hundred percent. Unemployment is estimated at more than seventy percent. As a result, many people cannot afford to buy sufficient food.
In addition to catastrophic economic policies, the government of Zimbabwe continues to engage in pervasive and systematic human rights abuses. According to the latest State Department human rights report, the government of President Mugabe sanctions the use of excessive force and torture, and security forces brutalize members of the opposition, union leaders, and civil society activists. Non-governmental organizations are routinely prevented from providing humanitarian assistance. At the same time, the government continues to forcibly evict citizens and demolish their homes.
Democratic change is the best way to put an end to the economic chaos and repression that is gripping Zimbabwe. With the latest government crackdown, "the world community," said Secretary of State Rice," again has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe."