Zimbabwe counts the cost after a week of strikes and savagery

Zimbabweans will return to work tomorrow after a week of strikes and violently repressed attempts at protests. But the country's daily suffering - including shortages of food, fuel, electricity, cash and even blood - is expected to bring a rapid return of tension.

A five-day strike called last week by the Movement for Democratic Change was successful, but its attempt to bring people out on the streets "in your millions" was violently repressed by the security forces and their notorious militia allies, known as the "Green Bombers".

The MDC's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was held on Friday for the second time in a week, accused of calling for the unconstitutional removal of the 79-year-old President, Robert Mugabe. He appeared in court yesterday, but will remain in custody until the hearing resumes tomorrow.

A doctor who belongs to an underground network that treats activists who are assaulted - many doctors have been threatened for this work - said he had treated more than 60 victims of political violence last week. Over half were women, and most were beaten by soldiers at night.

Their injuries, he said, followed the "typical soldier pattern - lots of soft tissue damage, whip cuts to the buttocks and backs of legs, and broken arms and hands as people try to fend off blows".

Solomon Chirimerime, a 31-year-old MDC activist, was in a private clinic, hidden from further harm, with wounds to the chest and elbow and a long, deep cut to a jaw so swollen that he could barely speak. He was spraying the slogan Zvakwana (Enough!) on a fence one night last week when a gang of Green Bombers appeared, beat him and left him for dead on the side of the road.

Mr Mugabe showed last week that his Zanu-PF regime can still control Zimbabwe by force. The protests were contained with teargas, water cannons, rifle butts and gunfire, while MDC leaders and activists were beaten and arrested en masse, cutting off the party's head at a key time. The number held had reached over 800 late on Friday, according to the independent Daily News.

Despite his arrest, Mr Tsvangirai still managed to flex the muscle of his support base - the private sector, unions and urban Zimbabweans - by freezing the economy, even if he failed to get people to march. Last week emphasised the country's political stalemate and could push the two sides into talks.

"The options are limited," said Prof Brian Raftopolous, chair of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Committee. "The MDC will be looking to see how early talks can begin, and so will Zanu-PF in future. This week made clear that the status quo is unsustainable."

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