Twenty hurt as Mugabe gangs and police attack opposition rally

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At least 20 opposition supporters were badly wounded in Zimbabwe's escalating political violence yesterday when police and youth militias disrupted an opposition rally.

Witnesses said two people had died in the clash at a stadium in Bulawayo, the country's second biggest city. This was denied by police. "I have not received any reports of any deaths," said Assistant Commissioner Albert Mandizha.

Hundreds of ruling Zanu-PF youth militias were said to have spent Saturday night in White City stadium waiting to disrupt what the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had dubbed a "star rally". The militias attacked opposition supporters outside the stadium and the police joined in, using tear gas and batons.

Loughty Dube, a journalist, said: "The police are still throwing tear gas at any small groups of people around ... It's bad ... Human blood is splattered around the area." He said he had been told two people, including a five-year-old child, had died.A hospital spokesman said more than 20 people had been admitted with injuries.

The violence broke out as Nigeria's President, Olusegen Obasanjo, was due in Harare to review the implementation of an agreement that he brokered late last year to end the Zimbabwe crisis. Diplomatic sources said they expected the Nigerian leader to put pressure on Robert Mugabe, his Zimbabwean counterpart, to end political violence and to hold a free and fair election.

Mr Obasanjo organised a meeting of Commonwealth ministers in Abuja, Nigeria, late last year at which Mr Mugabe pledged to end the violent seizures of white farms by his supporters and to restore the rule of law. Since then, however, political and farm violence has been worsening by the day. Mr Mugabe blames the MDC for the violence. His party said two of its supporters were killed in Zaka by MDC supporters at the weekend.About 30 opposition activists have since been arrested in the Zaka area.

In another incident, Tom Spicer, 17, the first white activist to be elected to the MDC youth structure, was abducted by militias while distributing campaign materials.

He was beaten and tied to a tree overnight and remains in police custody. Mr Spicer's parents said they had been denied access to their son.