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HARARE - The Zimbabwean government yesterday shrugged off an appeal by the country's Roman Catholic bishops for democratic reform, while an opposition activist lay in a critical condition in hospital after being shot, reportedly by police.
Reacting to a letter from the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference pasted on church doors on Easter Sunday, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said he "respected their opinion".
Zimbabwe was a democracy, he insisted, adding that the bishops, who warned of a "mass uprising" in the absence of democratic reforms, were "free to say what they like".
Worshippers crowded around church notice boards after mass on Easter Sunday to read the pastoral letter, entitled God Hears the Cries of the Oppressed, which lamented state "arrests, detentions, banning orders, beatings and torture" and "vote-rigging".
"Oppression is sin," the bishops warned President Robert Mugabe, himself a Catholic, adding: "In order to avoid bloodshed and a mass uprising, the nation needs a new people-driven constitution [under which to hold] free and fair elections."
Meanwhile, an activist with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who was reportedly shot by police in Harare in an ongoing crackdown on the party, was in critical condition in hospital yesterday, a party spokesman said.
"He still has that bullet that has not been taken out," party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said in reference to a bullet lodged in Philip Katsande's chest.
Efforts were under way at party level to have Katsande moved from Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital, where he is under police guard, to a private clinic.
Police raided Katsande's home late on Thursday, shooting him three times, once in the chest and twice in the hands, according to the MDC.
An MDC activist was shot dead and several others, including party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were detained and beaten by police after an aborted opposition prayer rally last month.
Police say they are hunting for suspects behind a string of petrol bomb attacks on police stations and other targets that have left several injured since the March crackdown. They blame the MDC for the attacks, but the party rejects the charges.
The attack on Katsande comes days after the badly-beaten body of an abducted television cameraman, Edward Chikomba, was found on the outskirts of Harare, Some suspect his killing was linked to his work.
Chikomba allegedly leaked footage of a badly beaten Tsvangirai after his release from police custody last month to foreign media.
The images, published worldwide, provoked a torrent of international condemnation of the Mugabe regime. - Sapa-DPA