Zimbabwe arrests another veterans group leader in crackdown

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe police on Monday arrested a leading official of the veterans association that turned on President Robert Mugabe last month, detaining the man as he left a courthouse where a colleague was answering charges of insulting the president.

Victor Matemadanda, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, was the second official detained in a crackdown on the association’s leaders.

The once-loyal supporters of Mugabe last month issued a harshly worded statement describing him as “dictatorial” and blaming him for corruption and the southern African country’s economic crisis. The veterans of the nation’s 1970s war of independence from white rule had long been quick to defend Mugabe, even with violence.

Mugabe responded by vowing “severe” punishment for those behind the statement. The association’s spokesman, Douglas Mahiya, had been in detention since Wednesday and was freed Monday on $300 bail.

Matemadanda faces the same charge as Mahiya, insulting or undermining the authority of the president, said Irene Petras, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The nonprofit organization has been providing lawyers for the arrested veterans.

Police had a heavy presence at the courthouse Monday, forming a human chain to block the entrance. Scores of veterans gathered, singing wartime songs. Others cried and admonished the police, accusing them of doing no better than the white government they once fought.

Protests have become a near-daily occurrence in the capital, Harare, and other cities as frustrations grow over a rapidly deteriorating economy and rising political tensions.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the tensions are not likely to result in any immediate political changes as the 92-year-old Mugabe might hold on a little longer, but he warned that the free-falling economy could be the president’s Achilles heel.