A leading international rights group said yesterday that Zimbabwe's two-year-old coalition government has failed to end human rights abuses and political violence.
Amnesty International said in a report that violence, mainly by militants of President Robert Mugabe's party, continued with the "tacit approval" of police.
Its researchers witnessed a 21 January incident in which riot police watched but did not intervene when mobs seriously injured two people in an attack on suspected supporters of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Amnesty called for urgent reforms in police and military units traditionally loyal to Mr Mugabe. Violence surged in January after he called for elections later this year to bring the troubled coalition to an end.
The power-sharing government took office February 2009 after disputed elections plagued by violence and allegations of vote rigging in 2008.
Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's director for Africa, said the formation of the coalition raised hopes for an end to a decade of human rights abuse.
But two years on, such hope is "rapidly fading away and has been replaced by fear and instability amid talk of another election," he said.
Amnesty officials saw supporters of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party "beating members of the public in the presence of anti-riot police" during a protest outside the offices of the Tsvangirai-led Harare City Council on 21 January. Riot police monitoring the protest did nothing assist the victims, Mr Van der Borght said.
He said Mugabe's supporters in recent weeks have targeted rivals suspected of loyalty to Tsvangirai, and that police did not act to stop the violence.
"Zanu-PF supporters who use violence against members of the public or their perceived political opponents are beyond the reach of the law," he said.
In the western Harare township suburb of Mbare, the report said, police failed to protect victims of violence and even arrested victims who came to report violent attacks and evictions from their homes.
"These events are just the tip of the iceberg; thousands of people in rural areas live in fear of violence" and the official "security apparatus" that instigated violence surrounding the last elections was still intact ahead of polls proposed this year, Mr Van der Borght said.
Human rights activists were also arrested, including on Wednesday three leaders of the biggest alliance of rights groups, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum. They were released after interrogation on their work concerning reforms in the justice system.
"Security sector reform is needed in Zimbabwe to end a legacy of partisan policing and abuse of the law to achieve political goals," Mr Van der Borght said.
He said regional leaders headed by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa were also to blame for failing to pressure Mr Mugabe into abiding by the terms of the 2009 power sharing agreement.