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CIVILIANS have been beaten and more than 600 arrested as part of a brutal Zimbabwean government attempt to crush protests over a rise in fuel prices and the country’s faltering economy.
Activists say people have been dragged from their homes as police and security services personnel trawl the poorer areas of the capital Harare, attacking civilians at random.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said last night that it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds with 100 others of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and bites received from police dogs.
Journalists are among those arrested and the internet was shut down across the country in a bid to prevent reports getting out of the massive campaign of repression, which followed a three-day general strike in protest at growing poverty levels.
State Security Minister Owen Ncube confirmed the arrests in an address broadcast on state television and said that more than 200 of those detained had appeared in court.
He praised the country’s security services for “standing firm” and appealed for people to return to work and end the protests against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The government and security services blame the unrest on opposition groups who have criticised Mr Mnangagwa for being overseas at a time when Zimbabweans are being tear-gassed in the streets for demanding bread.
Prison cells across Harare are said to be at bursting point, with lawyer Doug Coltart warning that children are among those being held.
He visited a group of men in prison who said they had been abducted from their homes at midnight by masked men in plain clothes carrying AK47 assault rifles.
“They were dragged out, beaten in the streets with baton sticks and rifle butts, bundled into the back of trucks and left at Harare Central,” Mr Coltart said.
“They are being held without charges or representation, with no food or water … The brutality of what is going on is shocking.”
Growing unrest in Zimbabwe has seen doctors on strike for 40 days over unsafe staffing levels and poor access to medicines, whose costs are rising as inflation spirals.
Trade unions staged a three-day general strike from Monday and teachers and civil servants have also announced separate actions.
Police plan to charge pastor Evan Mawarire with subverting the government, a crime which carries up to 20 years in jail, for his role in the protests.
At least eight people are believed to have been killed by security forces.
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