Scuffles and tear gas at Zimbabwe opposition headquarters

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe police fired tear gas Friday and arrested several opposition leaders who gathered at their party’s headquarters after it was forcibly occupied by a rival faction with the help of state security agents.

The MDC leaders, including the party’s vice president, Tendai Biti, were blocked from entering the building to address a press conference and, after scuffles and tear gas, were shoved into a truck.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

The MDC, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, is fractured after a court ruled in March that Nelson Chamisa, who narrowly lost to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the 2018 election, is not the party’s legitimate leader. The court ordered the MDC to elect new leaders within three months.

Chamisa’s rival for the post, Thokozani Khupe, enjoys warm relations with the president. She is also part of a group of opposition leaders that routinely meets with the president for “dialogue.” Mnangagwa has asked Chamisa to join the talks, but Chamisa refuses to accept Mnangagwa’s election win and insists on an independent arbitrator.

Chamisa had remained in control of the party building until Thursday’s takeover. He accused the government of taking sides in the internal feud to destroy his “popular movement” while promoting “a pliant opposition.”

Chamisa said the arrested officials were taken to a downtown police station in the capital, Harare, and were yet to be formally charged.

The U.S. Embassy criticized the actions of the police. “We are dismayed by the politicized use of security forces to take over the headquarters of an opposition party and arrest its members,” the embassy said in a tweet.