Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Washington has strongly condemned a wave of state-sponsored violence against opposition supporters in Zimbabwe that has left at least one person dead amid reports of arbitrary arrests and sexual assaults by security force members.
The State Department said security agents were reacting to an effective two-day civil disobedience campaign called by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last week.
Many thousands of people stayed away from work, and thousands of businesses and stores stopped operating last Wednesday and Thursday, sending a message to the government that - in the words of one Harare newspaper columnist - "we are tired, we are hungry, we want democracy."
The violence, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, was also directly attributable to remarks last Friday by President Robert Mugabe, who compared himself to Adolf Hitler.
Boucher said the U.S. government demanded that Mugabe's administration immediately stop what he called a campaign of violent repression and punish those responsible for rights abuses.
The human rights group Amnesty International, which reported "arbitrary detentions" and said it was worried about the safety of those in detention, including MDC officials and supporters, raised similar concerns.
More than 400 people have been arrested, and hospitals report treating hundreds of people for injuries sustained at the hands of security force members.
It said the violence was an indication that there were no limits to how far the government will go to suppress opposition and maintain its grip on power.
There are fears matters will get even worse this week. Two "by-elections" for parliamentary seats held by the MDC members are to be held, and the government has vowed to use all means possible to win the seats.
The MDC said it would call for further civil disobedience actions if the government did not end the violence and meet other demands.
Amnesty International has reported severe assaults and abuse of opposition members and supporters.
In one incident, three workers on a farm owned by an MDC lawmaker were forced to lie face down on the ground, and then, soldiers with batons, whips and lengths of wire beat them. One of the three, a worker named Steve Tonera, later died of his wounds.
In another case, a female employee at the MDC's offices reported that police raided her home, forced her to strip and then used their firearms to assault her sexually. Police also reportedly forced her mother to drink her daughter's urine.
"The alarming escalation in political violence is a clear indication that the Zimbabwe authorities are determined to suppress dissent by whatever means necessary."
Journalists have also been harassed, detained and assaulted.
Last Friday, Mugabe noted that British media reports had compared him to Hitler.
"This Hitler has only one objective - justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources," he said.
"If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold."
The U.S. called recently on the international community to join forces and isolate the Zimbabwean government because of the escalating human rights abuses.
It wants the international community - especially Zimbabwe's neighbors - to put pressure on Mugabe to hold early and fair elections.
Corruption, political violence, discriminatory "land reform" policies leading to the expulsion of white commercial farmers and flawed presidential elections in 2000 have brought the once-promising southern African country to the brink of collapse.
Inflation is running at more than 200 percent, and unemployment has climbed to 70 percent.
Two million of Zimbabwe's 11 million people are "displaced persons," according to aid agencies. They include more than one million farm workers and their families, victims of the land redistribution policies.
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