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Surge in Violence Against Zimbabwe Opposition Supporters Reported

The main opposition party on Tuesday reported an upsurge in violence against its supporters as the government reiterated warnings that it would clamp down on unrest.

The Movement for Democratic Change alleged a police purge was continuing in its urban strongholds, with at least 35 of its supporters hospitalized Tuesday from beatings by ruling party youth league members and state agents patrolling townships in unmarked vehicles.

"Similar stories are coming in from centers all over the country. All the injured are being dealt with in private hospitals as all state hospitals are instructed not to take in MDC activists, no matter what their injuries," it said in a statement.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said seven labor activists were arrested for distributing leaflets about the union's planned strike April 3 and 4.

The latest clampdown followed a speech by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday to youth leaders urging them to "get prepared for a fight" and warning opposition activists if violence continued they would again be "bashed."

A fiercely pro-Mugabe columnist in the state Herald, a government mouthpiece, also warned activists that angry police and troops were ready to violently curb their activities.

"Woe betide the unfortunate back on whom the blows will land," said the columnist — Mugabe's chief spokesman George Charamba — writing under the pen name of Nathaniel Manheru.

As the propaganda war heated up, the government continued to blame its opponents for the violence.

Police said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was injured March 11 after resisting arrest for inciting violence.

But his aides recounted he was arrested at the local police station where he had gone to find colleagues picked up from a convoy of cars headed across rough ground toward a prayer meeting after police barricaded approach roads.

Tsvangirai continued to recuperate at his Harare home Tuesday from head injuries, hand fractures and severe body bruising. He has accused police of forcing him to lie face down while he was beaten with riot sticks, iron bars and clubs.

Other activists being beaten recounted the most severe head injuries were inflicted when one officer identified him by name and ordered him to stand, cajoling him: "You are not the president, Robert Mugabe is our president."

Tsvangirai is opposition party president and is often referred to by supporters as President Tsvangirai.

Police denied that Nelson Chamisa, an opposition lawmaker and spokesman for Tsvangirai, was assaulted by state agents wielding iron bars at the Harare International Airport as he attempted to leave for an international parliamentary meeting in Belgium on Sunday.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said an investigation was launched into that attack though Chamisa did not officially report it police. Chamisa, speaking from his hospital bed, acknowledged he made no official report as "some police officers were present when I was assaulted."

Police claimed two other seriously injured opposition activists were prevented from boarding an air ambulance for advanced surgery in South Africa because they still had a case to answer for their role in the March 11 violence.

All 47 activists arrested March 11 were freed without being charged or granted bail.