JOHANNESBURG -- The spokesman for Zimbabwe's main opposition leader was assaulted by security forces as he tried to leave the country yesterday, an opposition official said, accusing the government of continuing to target dissident activists.
President Robert Mugabe's government is under increasing international criticism for its treatment of the country's opposition. Activists accuse the government of disrupting their gatherings and beating and detaining their leaders.
Three opposition activists allegedly assaulted when police broke up a March 11 protest meeting were rearrested Saturday at Harare International Airport.
Nelson Chamisa, an aide to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was assaulted at the airport yesterday as he was trying to leave for a meeting of the European Union and other countries in Brussels, the party's secretary general, Tendai Biti, said from Johannesburg.
"He was beaten on the head with iron bars. There was blood all over his face. He is in a critical condition at a private hospital in Harare," Biti said.
Tsvangirai said the crisis in Zimbabwe had reached a decisive moment.
"Things are bad," Tsvangirai told the BBC. "But I think that this crisis has reached a tipping point, and we could see the beginning of the end of this dictatorship in whatever form."
Mugabe, meanwhile, accused the opposition of being terrorists supported by Britain and the West.
In Saturday's arrests, injured activists Grace Kwinje and Sekai Holland were prevented from leaving to receive medical care abroad. The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa said in a statement yesterday that Holland, 64, was completely immobilized on her left side, and had multiple fractures including a broken arm and leg and three broken ribs. She has undergone an operation on a fracture in her left ankle and has severe bruising causing internal complications, the group said.
Arthur Mutambara, leader of an opposition faction, was also arrested at the airport Saturday.
Harrison Nkomo, a lawyer for Mutambara, said yesterday that his client was being kept at the Harare central police station, and that he was being charged with inciting public violence in relation to last week's altercation.
The latest violence has drawn attention to a deteriorating situation in the southern African country, where the increasingly autocratic Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages, and inflation of 1,600 percent -- the highest in the world.
Mugabe, 83, has rejected the international condemnation following the arrests and alleged beating, lashing out at critics and telling them to "go hang," and he vowed to crack down on further protests.