Zimbabwe: Catholic agency reports food riots

 The capital city of Zimbabwe, Harare, has been shaken by four days of violent protest over food shortages. The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission said troops in eastern Harare were carrying out violent house to house searches and rounding up dozens of people suspected of taking part in demonstrations. A spokesman said people had been dragged from their homes and assaulted before being taken away in military vehicles. "They are going from house to house, getting hold of young men or women who could be possible demonstrators and either driving them off somewhere or beating them there," said Tarcisius Zimbiti, head of the commission. Church workers who witnessed the operations are compiling a dossier of incidents. They are not yet sure how many suspects have been assaulted or where where those driven away were taken. All week police and troops have skirmished with protesters in impoverished township suburbs in the capital of 1.5 million people. There have been reports that police and army patrols forced their way into homes and beat residents with batons and riot sticks. They also indiscriminately fired tear gas into homes and stopped taxis ferrying commuters from the Kuwadzana township into the city centre, one church worker said. A group of soldiers attacked four international journalists in the nearby township of Dzivarasekwa. The reporters were forced to lie face down on the street at gunpoint and beaten with whips and riot sticks, says Associated Press Television News cameraman Chris Mazivanhanga, who was treated for bruising, deep welts on his back and shock at a clinic. Human rights activists and church workers reported several other brutal assaults by police and soldiers, said Munyaradzi Bidi, head of the independent human rights group ZimRights. He said the patrols seemed to be trying to rule by terror. Harare police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said he had no information on the alleged police brutality. The food shortage in Zimbabwe is being felt particularly hard by refugees arriving at a rate of around 100 a day, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. There is also a chronic shortage of accommodation in Tongogara camp (Chipinge) and the Harare transit centre, said director of the Jesuit Refugee Services urban refugee program in Harare, Stanislous Rizik. He said: "The allowance refugees and asylum seekers get does not see them through to the end of the month. They have been promised an increase, but this has not materialised as yet." Some refugees were selling their blankets to buy food, he added.

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