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Zimbabwe detains UN torture expert

President Robert Mugabe's government has detained a United Nations expert on torture, preventing him from carrying out an investigation into widespread charges of systematic state violence against the opposition.

The detention of the U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, Michael Nowak, comes amid a new wave of arrests, intimidation and allegations of state-sponsored violence.

The Zimbabwe government had earlier invited the United Nations to investigate the reports of torture from October 28 to November 4. But this week the government revoked its decision. Nowak, an Austrian academic, proceeded on the planned visit but was detained at Harare airport Wednesday by security agents. It is expected Nowak will be deported to South Africa Thursday.

The Mugabe government's action to prevent the U.N. investigation is a setback to human rights groups that have made well-documented accusations of systematic state torture of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

This week the MDC has made fresh allegation of a new round of arrests of its members and intimidation and violence. It comes after MDC leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other MDC members refused to attend cabinet meetings, following the harassment of MDC treasurer Roy Bennett and other MDC members. The actions have threatened the fragile power-sharing government in which Mugabe is president and Tsvangirai is prime minister. But Mugabe has retained the lion's share of power and has continued to harass Tsvangirai and the rest of the MDC, according to lawyers and other civic leaders.