HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Government-backed militants beat and critically injured several opposition activists in Zimbabwe over the weekend and an opposition party office was burned down, officials said Monday.
The unrest, which reportedly included police tear gassing an opposition rally and militants from President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF spraying several homes in Harare with gunfire, capped a week marred by violence.
Last week government-backed militants embarked on a fresh looting campaign of white-owned farms, forcing 23 landowners from their homes. International observers have said Mugabe is using the land issue as a screen to bolster his support and crush dissent ahead of March presidential elections.
With the tacit support of the government, militants have invaded hundreds of white-owned farms since early 2000. Mugabe has called their actions a justified response to the legacy of inequitable land ownership left by colonial rule.
The possibility of free elections is considered remote, since Mugabe has cracked down on dissent through legislation and government-sanctioned violence.
The disintegrating rule of law in the country has also sparked concern in the international community. Western governments have condemned the violence.