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Opposition supporters claim torture in Zimbabwe

  • Story Highlights
  • Morgan Tsvangirai's supporters back his withdrawal from runoff
  • Some say they were taken to "torture bases" by supporters of Mugabe
  • A man and a woman being treated for broken hands said they were tortured
  • Mugabe laughed and mugged for reporters as he cast his ballot at a high school
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- With polls closed for a Zimbabwe runoff that opposition politicians and international observers call a sham, alleged torture victims who support former candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said Friday that they back his decision to pull out of the race.

Many of the injured being treated at a private hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe, asked not to be identified.

Many of the injured being treated at a private hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe, asked not to be identified.

"It's a good move by my president, Morgan Tsvangirai," said a 26-year-old Movement for Democratic Change activist who said he was forced to stand on hot coals and had boiling water poured on him about a week ago. "There's no use going for an election."

The man, who displayed a large, pale, blistered patch on his back, asked not to be identified -- as did others being treated at a private hospital in Harare -- for fear of further attacks by gangs supportive of President Robert Mugabe.

All of the victims said they were taken to "torture bases" by the gangs, made up of young men and soldiers.

In the March 29 election, MDC officials said their polling showed Tsvangirai clearly defeating Mugabe, who at 84 is the only president Zimbabwe has had since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.

But after delaying the release of results for more than a week, the country's electoral commission -- which is made up of Mugabe appointees -- said that although Tsvangirai got more votes, he didn't top the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

MDC supporters had already reported violence against them by police, military members and other supporters of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. But in the weeks leading up to the runoff, the reports increased in frequency and intensity.

More than 70 people were killed in attacks since the election, according to the MDC. Mugabe's supporters have claimed that those attacks were against his party members, a claim international observers, including the United Nations, have disputed. Video Watch victims say they were taken to torture camps »

Tsvangirai and other party leaders were repeatedly arrested by police or detained on their way to political rallies. And reports of beatings and other intimidation tactics were common in areas where the MDC had made strong showings in the election.

"Mostly for the rural people -- the police would come in for the Zanu-PF, so the area was very tense," said a municipal worker at the hospital, who said he was kicked and had burning plastic poured on his skin about three or four days ago. "Everyone was beaten. Whether Zanu-PF or MDC. There was chaos in the country."

George Charamba, a spokesman for Mugabe, insisted that the vote was "free and fair."

Charamba denied that any pressure was being used.

Asked about images from Zimbabwe showing what is reported to be violence against members of the opposition, he responded, "I thought we are long past the age where we could consider pictures as not lying. It's very, very easy for anyone to stage-manage a demonstration, and a violent one at that."

Last weekend, Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff, saying there was no way the result would be legitimate. He has spent much of the time since living in the Dutch Embassy in Harare in fear for his safety.

Early Friday, the municipal worker said he was considering whether to heed Tsvangirai's call for his supporters to not vote in the election, but the question may be moot. The gangs took his identification card and threw it into a fire, he said.

Another man and a woman treated for broken hands at the hospital said they were tortured and had boiling water poured on their genitals for being MDC supporters. The man said he was forced to drink sewage.

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Meanwhile, Mugabe laughed and mugged for reporters from Zimbabwe's state-run media as he cast his ballot at a high school.

"Very optimistic, upbeat ... and hungry," he said when asked how he was feeling.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeMorgan Tsvangirai

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