March 12, 2007 / 1:06 PM / 12 years ago

Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai beaten, hurt in custody-lawyer

(Adds quotes from lawyer, pressure group)

HARARE, March 12 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was severely assaulted in detention and had to be taken to hospital for treatment following his arrest on Sunday over a banned prayer rally, his lawyer said. "He was in bad shape, he was swollen very badly. He was bandaged on the head. You couldn’t distinguish between the head and the face and he could not see properly," Innocent Chagonda, an attorney, told Reuters after visiting a Harare police station where Tsvangirai was being held.

Chagonda said he had not spoken to Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), because police had denied lawyers access to the dozens of opposition and civic leaders arrested in the crackdown on anti-government forces.

"I managed to see him from about 10 metres inside the police holding fence at Borrowdale Police Station. They were being paraded," he said.

"Police confirmed they had taken him to hospital last night, which explains the reason he was bandaged," Chagonda added.

A spokesman for National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a political pressure group, said its chairman, Lovemore Madhuku, suffered a broken arm and a bad head wound after being taken into police custody.

"I saw him at Parirenyatwa Hospital (in Harare) this morning, and his arm is now in a plaster and the head wound is quite bad," NCA spokesman Ernest Mudzengi said.

The organisers of the prayer rally, which was stopped by the police because it violated a three-month government ban on such protests, said Tsvangirai fainted three times after being beaten while Madhuku passed out and was rushed to hospital.

The welfare of Arthur Mutambara, who heads a breakaway faction of the MDC and was among those arrested on Sunday, was unclear, his lawyer Harrison Nkomo said.

The arrests of the opposition leaders, which were condemned by the United States government, came amid rising tensions in Zimbabwe over a deepening economic crisis and President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Zimbawe, once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, is struggling with inflation over 1,700 percent, sky-high unemployment and chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.

Mugabe, in power since the country won independence from Britain in 1980, was quoted by a state-run newspaper on Monday as saying he would run again for president if his ruling ZANU-PF party nominated him.

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