Zimbabwe opposition says rising violence hits backers

CAPE TOWN, South Africa: Hopes for a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe are doomed because President Robert Mugabe's party has unleashed a new wave of violence against opposition members, the opposition charged Thursday.

The Movement for Democratic Change said political violence across the southern African nation was increasing amid a two-month stalemate in power-sharing talks that are stalled over allocating Cabinet posts.

"ZANU-PF has unleashed a new orgy of brutality and assaults," the MDC said in a statement from South Africa before a weekend regional summit.

The opposition said 25 supporters were attacked Oct. 27, with five of them needing hospital treatment. Three days later, state security agents raided MDC homes and arrested nine members, eight of whom are still in custody, including a 2-year-old child. It also claimed supporters in rural areas were especially intimidated by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

There was no immediate response from police and it was impossible to verify the claims because most rural areas are inaccessible. But human rights groups like Amnesty International have also reported an increase in intimidation.

Mugabe, who lost his parliamentary majority in March elections, wants to keep control of the key ministries.

But the Movement for Democratic Change says it wants control of the Home Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for the police, who have been blamed for some of the political violence.

Also Thursday, two female pro-democracy activists were released on bail from prison three weeks after being arrested for demonstrating against the political deadlock.

The women, leaders of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise group, said prison conditions were appalling.

"The extreme hunger experienced by most prisoners means that even orange peels and the scraps on dirty plates are fought over," they said in a statement.

South Africa warned that its patience was running out, saying Zimbabwe was endangering the region’s political and economic stability.

"We believe that South Africa and the region cannot be held to ransom by three parties that are failing to reach agreement on the allocation of cabinet posts," government spokesman Themba Maseko told journalists. "The parties in Zimbabwe (must) understand the urgency of finding a settlement."

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who enjoys close relations with Mugabe, continues to be the main mediator for Zimbabwe. But South Africa’s new president, Kgalemo Motlanthe and the powerful head of the country’s ruling African National Congress party, Jacob Zuma, are less sympathetic.

Neighboring Botswana has grown increasingly vocal against Mugabe and demanded new elections, and Zambia’s new president has vowed to follow his predecessor, who publicly criticized Mugabe.