More pressure on government needed, US

The US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has slammed recent suggestions by the government of Zimbabwe and "some members of the international community" that conditions were improving in Zimbabwe as having "no basis in reality".

South Africa and Nigeria recently called of a Commonwealth troika meeting, much to the chagrin of Australia, the third member of the group, saying the situation in Zimbabwe had improved. The three countries were to meet to discuss Commonwealth actions regarding Zimbabwe, which was suspended by the Commonwealth for a year following last year's marred presidential poll.

"Political persecution and violence continue [unabated] and Zimbabweans continue to suffer greatly under an economic collapse of enormous scope and severity. The government of Zimbabwe has done nothing to address fundamental concerns about human rights, rule of law and basic respect for democratic values that led the United States and other international actors to impose targeted measures against Zimbabwean leaders last year. Indeed, conditions in this area continue to deteriorate," Boucher said at a news conference on Tuesday.

He was responding to a question regarding the latest arrests of opposition activists in Zimbabwe.

Boucher said the United States "strongly condemned the recent arrests of members of Zimbabwe's civil society and political opposition".

"Since last Friday, more than 100 participants in various political events have been arrested, in some cases beaten, while pursuing basic rights such as attending rallies and engaging in free speech. In addition, 23 members of the clergy were detained while seeking to present a petition concerning police brutality to the police chief," Boucher added.

The clergymen were arrested when they marched to the police headquarters in the capital, Harare, at the weekend to deliver a petition protesting against state-orchestrated political violence and strict laws prohibiting demonstrations. They were released after several hours.

Boucher noted also that the government of Zimbabwe had not responded to a protest from the US embassy over the detention of a US diplomat for about an hour on 13 February.

He encouraged the international community to join the United States in putting pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to "reverse its assault on human rights and on the rule of law".

IRIN's attempts to get a response from the government of Zimbabwe were unsuccessful on Wednesday.