Armed police today raided the headquarters of Zimbabwe's main opposition party and offices of independent election observers as Robert Mugabe's government clamped down on its opponents.
In the most aggressive move against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since last month's disputed elections, dozens of riot police seized around 100 MDC supporters, bundled them into a crowded police bus and drove away, according to witnesses.
An MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, said among those detained were supporters who had come to the party headquarters after being hurt in what the opposition and human rights groups describe as a systematic campaign to intimidate government opponents.
"They took everyone in the building, including those who had come just to seek medical care. They are trying to destroy evidence of their brutality," Chamisa told Reuters. He said police also took some computers.
Police said those arrested had sought refuge at the opposition headquarters after having "committed crimes" outside Harare.
"Some of them are not office workers at all. We are busy screening them. There are some cases we are investigating and we will release those who have not committed any crime," a police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, said.
Police seized material on vote-counting in the raids on the MDC's headquarters and offices of the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network.
The latest blow against the opposition came as Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper attacked African leaders as "myopic stooges" for criticising Zimbabwe's handling of the March 29 elections.
Southern African countries, which have expressed increasing impatience with Mugabe's authoritarian leadership, this week refused to allow a Chinese ship to unload an arms shipment destined for Zimbabwe, forcing the vessel to head home.
"The attempt to link the shipment to the post-election environment should convince sceptics of the lengths to which the westerners and their lackeys will go to manufacture a crisis in Zimbabwe," the Herald said.
Almost a month after parliamentary and presidential elections, Zimbabwe's electoral commission has yet to release the results of the ballots.
Most independent observers say the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the presidential vote, although not by enough to avoid a run-off.
The ruling Zanu-PF party initially acknowledged losing control of parliament for the first time since independence 28 years ago, but recounts in 23 of 210 constituencies could overturn the results.
The commission has recounted nine constituencies. So far all candidates who were originally declared winners have retained their position. Full results of the recounts are expected by the weekend.
Today's raid on the opposition headquarters came despite a proposal floated in the Herald earlier in the week by a pro-Zanu-PF academic, suggesting a government of national unity that would include the opposition, but would be led by Mugabe.
The proposal was welcomed by the Zambian government yesterday. A spokesman said a national unity government would be a "welcome decision" if it could bring the country together.
The top US envoy to Africa, Jendayi Frazer, told reporters in southern Africa this week that Tsvangirai had won the right to lead any unity government.
As to Mugabe, she said: "If he does the right thing, he should be allowed to stay in Zimbabwe with the dignity of a former president."