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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
Zim union men 'deserved beating'
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe is due to retire in 2008
Zimbabwean union leaders who claim they were assaulted and tortured by police deserved their treatment, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has said.

Lawyers claim that police assaulted at least a dozen union members before a planned protest on 13 September.

"When the police say move, move," Mr Mugabe told the official Herald newspaper. "If you don't move, you invite the police to use force."

He said the protesters were trying to attract US and British attention.

The planned demonstration over Mr Mugabe's handling of the economy was called off after at least 50 people were arrested before the protest.

'A revolt'

Lawyers for the arrested union leaders say that at least 12 of them were left needing hospital treatment by police, with Zimbabwe Council of Trade Unions Secretary General Wellington Chibebe suffering a broken arm while in custody.

Mr Mugabe said the demonstration had been intended to bring about "regime change" through attracting the support of non-governmental organisations, "stupid" journalists, and the US and British governments.

Zimbabwean woman holds money and a loaf of white bread
Zimbabwe's inflation is the highest in the world at more than 1,200%

"We cannot have a situation where people decide to sit in places not allowed and when the police remove them, they say no. We can't have that, that is a revolt to the system," the Herald quoted him as saying.

He said that police had been right in dealing sternly with the protestors: "Some people are now crying foul that they were assaulted, yes, you get a beating."

Zimbabwe has been gripped by an economic crisis for more than six years, with unemployment now running at 80% and inflation at more than 1,200%.

Mr Mugabe's critics blame the situation on his mishandling of the economy and a plan to redistribute white-owned farms to black Zimbabweans.

The government argues that the woes are the result of international sabotage and sanctions aimed at removing Mr Mugabe from power.

'Draconian' restrictions

The 82-year-old has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, and is due to retire in 2008.

ZIMBABWE CRISIS
graph
Life expectancy 30 years
High dependency on food aid
20% adult HIV prevalence
Shortages of basic foodstuffs
High unemployment
Inflation 1,200%

But his Zanu-PF party has said it is looking at delaying the presidential poll until 2010 so that it would coincide with planned parliamentary elections.

Critics claim that regulations on public demonstrations and media activities in the country have stifled democracy and consolidated Mr Mugabe's hold on power.

Monday saw lawyer accuse the government of abusing the legal system for its own political ends after a case against one of the country's two independent radio stations was dismissed by a local court.

Three journalists and seven trustees of Voice of the People radio were arrested nine months ago for possessing unlicensed radio transmitters.

Magistrates ordered the case to be dropped after the government asked for a fourth adjournment to assemble their case.

The radio station circumvents media restrictions by broadcasting using short-wave transmitters based outside the country.


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