Zimbabwean troops beat man to death in bid to end strike

Zimbabwean soldiers beat an opposition supporter to death yesterday as a government crackdown intensified on the third day of a national strike aimed at toppling President Robert Mugabe.

Many Zimbabwean shops and businesses remained shut yesterday in defiance of a threat from President Mugabe to seize businesses taking part in the largest-ever protests against his rule. He is also threatening to expel expatriate businessmen and workers who defy his orders to return to work.

The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said Mugabe agents yesterday raided a private hospital and abducted several of its injured supporters who were awaiting treatment. The MDC said that an opposition supporter, Tichaona Kaguru, died in hospital after being tortured and assaulted by the soldiers putting down the anti-Mugabe protests.

Zimbabwean business leaders told The Independent that they had been given orders to stop taking part in the week-long protest or risk losing their investments.

They said expatriate businessmen and workers had been told their work permits would be withdrawn and risked deportation if they continued to take part in the strike which has paralysed Zimbabwe.

The MDC called the strike to force Mr Mugabe to either resign or negotiate a settlement of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Harare businessmen said they had been told by Ministry of Industry and Trade officials and officers from Mr Mugabe's spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation, that the order for them to reopen had been issued by Mr Mugabe himself. They were told they would pay a heavy price for heeding the MDC strike call.

The businessmen said that although they had largely defied Mr Mugabe's order, some of their frightened colleagues had started reopening and a few parts of the industrial areas and some shops in Harare had started operating yesterday afternoon, albeit with skeleton staff. This was largely because of soldiers and youth militias who had patrolled the industrial areas forcing any business owners they could find to open.

The businessmen said that they were not sure whether many more businesses would reopen today or maintain their defiance of Mr Mugabe. "We are living in a fascist state and sometimes it calls for pragmatism for survival ... We are consulting," said one businessman.

Zimbabwe was closed on Monday and Tuesday and for the greater part of yesterday as the country responded to the MDC's call to strike against Mr Mugabe's rule.

Although people could not take to the streets in large numbers because of the excessive use of force by the Mugabe regime, they further crippled Zimbabwe's collapsing economy by heeding the opposition call not to work.

But eyewitnesses said there was pandemonium at the Avenues Clinic, the largest private clinic to treat opposition supporters hurt in the anti-Mugabe demonstrations. They said uniformed police entered the clinic and asked people in the out-patients' ward and others standing near the reception area to lie down. Many were savagely beaten. They said the police officers also entered various private wards at the clinic and attacked patients.

Edwin Mushoriwa, an opposition official who was seeking treatment at the clinic, saw seven men and women being abducted and taken into vans waiting outside.

Paul Themba Nyathi, an MDC spokesman, said the Avenues Clinic was being targeted because it was treating opposition supporters. He said that the whereabouts of those abducted from the hospital were still unknown.

The MDC largely refrains from sending its supporters to state hospitals and clinics because of fears they might be killed there.

Staff at the clinic refused to comment on the incident but a diplomat who was at the clinic said he had seen "hell".

A police spokesman said he had not yet received any report on the death of the opposition supporter or on the incident at the clinic. The opposition party said that it now feared the worst after hearing that Mr Mugabe has ordered soldiers to move from door to door in the overcrowded townships and to beat anyone who failed to report for work from today onwards.

The MDC claims that hundreds of its supporters have been severely beaten by Mr Mugabe's soldiers and army during the protests. Stan Mudenge, the Foreign minister, has reportedly justified the government action against the strike by telling foreign diplomats based in Harare yesterday that no government could tolerate any "illegal" protest.

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