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Victim of Zimbabwe police: 'I thought I'd end up dead'

Story Highlights

• Region's leaders, including Robert Mugabe, to meet Thursday in Tanzania
• Beaten opposition member: "It was brutal"
• 100,000 Zimbabweans are estimated to have fled to S. Africa in recent weeks
From Jeff Koinange
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- At a hospital bed in South Africa, a 64-year-old grandmother is recovering from multiple fractures to her legs and left arm -- injuries from Zimbabwe police who beat her repeatedly.

"I thought I'd end up dead," Sekai Holland said. "It was brutal, it was primitive, and it was really, really meant to break us physically -- and in our spirits."

A brutal crackdown against opponents of President Robert Mugabe has intensified in recent weeks. Holland, a member of the main opposition movement in Zimbabwe, became one of the victims.

Police violently broke up a peaceful opposition prayer vigil in the capital of Harare on March 11. Dozens were arrested, and one opposition member died from his injuries. Holland says she had gone to a local police station to ask about her injured colleagues when police turned on her.

The opposition has been ramping up pressure on Mugabe, 83, to step down and reform the nation that has seen a sharp decline under his 27-year rule.

Mugabe has remained unapologetic, saying police have the "right to bash" protesters. ( Watch Mugabe claim "police have the right to bash" Video)

The spiraling situation has prompted an emergency summit in Tanzania that begins Thursday. Mugabe and other regional leaders are to attend the session, which was called for by the Southern Africa Development Community to address "the prevailing political and security situation" in the region.

Meanwhile, the crackdown against the opposition continued Wednesday when Zimbabwe government forces raided the headquarters of the country's main opposition group in Harare. Everyone inside was detained, including Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC said.

The raid took place shortly before Tsvangirai -- who had his skull cracked in the March 11 vigil -- was to hold a news conference "on the escalating and systematic campaign of violence and intimidation undertaken by the Mugabe government in recent days," an MDC news release said.

Zimbabwe police spokesman Wayne Bvudzejena told CNN the operation at MDC headquarters was part of an initiative to arrest people responsible for throwing petrol bombs around Harare. More than 10 people were arrested, he said, but Tsvangirai was not among them. The MDC says he was taken into custody.

The detentions were immediately denounced by British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who called them a calculated move "not only to prevent them from legitimately expressing their views, but to intimidate."

"I strongly urge Mugabe and the Zimbabwean regime to heed the calls made by so many of the international community and their African neighbors to stop the oppression of the Zimbabwean people and respect their human rights," Beckett said.

Zimbabwe economy is crashing

Concerns over Mugabe's government were reignited after police violently broke up the opposition rally earlier this month.

A week later, several MDC leaders and officials -- some seeking medical treatment for their injuries -- were prevented from leaving the country by Zimbabwe forces. Holland was among those detained, but she was later released and crossed into South Africa to get treatment.

The situation in Zimbabwe has grown so dire in recent weeks that experts say more than 100,000 have fled into South Africa.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing. An estimated eight out of every 10 Zimbabweans are out of work. Inflation is around 1,700 percent. And life expectancy is the lowest in the world (37 years for men and 34 for women), according to the World Health Organization.

The downslide in Zimbabwe began, critics say, in 2000, when the government crippled the country's prime commercial farms by running off white farmers and redistributing the land to Mugabe's close friends. At least a dozen white farmers were killed and dozens were wounded and hospitalized. Thousands more fled the country and the land. Most of that land now lies abandoned.

Hannes Nel is a farmer in South Africa along the border with Zimbabwe. His family left Zimbabwe shortly after the country gained independence in 1980, when he was just 11 years old.

He says he's lost track of how many Zimbabweans cut through the border fence and cross into South Africa, passing through his farm.

"There's a lot of people crossing, literally hundreds, crossing daily," he said.

He added, "It's going to take a long time to rebuild Zimbabwe."

Sekai Holland was badly beaten by police in Zimbabwe earlier this month.


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