HARARE, Zimbabwe – Some 200 opposition supporters crowded outside the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe on Thursday, appealing for protection amid new reports of violence aimed at dissenters against the heavy-handed rule of President Robert Mugabe.
Activists did get some good news: Two women who led peaceful protests against Mugabe were granted bail after almost six weeks in a bleak prison cell.
The United States, meanwhile, presented a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling for new sanctions against Mugabe and his top aides. It also would demand talks on a coalition government for Zimbabwe, although the opposition leader has ruled that out.
Mugabe's loyalists have been assaulting supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change even after his re-election last week in a run-off scorned by many world leaders. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the vote because of state-sponsored violence during the campaign.
Fearful people with small bundles of possessions showed up outside the U.S. mission in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, seeking help. Among those in the milling crowd were mothers with small children and an elderly man with a broken leg.
U.S. Ambassador James McGee said by telephone the people came from the opposition headquarters, which had become a refuge. He said embassy officials were working with humanitarian groups to find accommodations.
More than 300 opposition supporters who sought refuge at the South African Embassy last week have been taken to a camp outside the capital.
Reports of violence and intimidation by backers of the ruling ZANU-PF party have been rising as the government tries to quell opposition to Mugabe's rule after years of harsh treatment for his foes and an economic crash that has left the one-time breadbasket short of food.
"There has been a high increase in abductions, beatings and rapes since ZANU-PF claimed it had won the 'election' with a resounding victory," the opposition said in a statement.
At least 80 opposition supporters were killed before the run-off, and the opposition says more than 10 have been killed since.
Men in army uniforms abducted opposition lawmaker-elect Naison Nemadziva at gunpoint Monday and his whereabouts remained unknown, an opposition statement said. Nemadziva was seized outside a court that was to hear a ruling party challenge to his winning of a legislative seat in March 29 national elections.
Activists Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were freed on bail Thursday. They had been arrested May 28 after holding a peaceful protest in Harare and charged with disturbing the peace and publishing statements prejudicial to the state.
"I am very happy to be out," Williams said. "I woke early this morning wondering if by evening I would be in my own bed or back in a prison cell."
Williams and Mahlangu were held in the notorious Chikurubi prison, where they had to sleep on a concrete floor in harsh winter conditions and had no running water.
"It's very tough," Williams said. "There is no segregation of prisoners. We were there with murderers and thieves."
But she said her detention had not dampened her spirit and expressed determination to continue with the peaceful protests. "I will be in the front of the next demonstration we hold," said Williams, who was honored with a courage award last year from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In New York, the U.S. set the stage for a potentially caustic debate at the Security Council by proposing U.N. sanctions that would require nations to freeze the financial assets of Mugabe and 11 of his top officials and to bar their travel outside Zimbabwe.
The draft resolution would also call on Mugabe's government to immediately begin negotiating to form a unity government with the opposition and to lift restrictions on humanitarian aid. But Tsvangirai said Wednesday that he wouldn't participate in talks under current conditions.
The council has adopted nonbinding resolutions condemning Zimbabwe's election violence and intimidation of opposition supporters. But South Africa and two members with veto power — China and Russia — have opposed tougher action.
The U.S. presented its resolution a day after the Bush administration and the European Union said Zimbabwe's opposition leader should head the country. Tsvangirai led Mugabe and two other candidates in the first round of presidential voting in March, but didn't get enough votes to avoid the runoff with Mugabe, the second-place finisher.