Reuters International

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police said on Thursday they had arrested a top official of a war veterans association that called President Robert Mugabe a corrupt dictator, and human rights lawyers said the leader had begun a crackdown on his former allies.

Douglas Mahiya, information secretary of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), was detained on Wednesday over a statement the association issued last week attacking Mugabe's rule. The government has labelled the statement "treasonous".

"The police is investigating that case, and the arrest is in connection with that case," police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters. She declined to go into details or address speculation that the government planned to detain other war veterans.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said in a statement that the police had also arrested Victor Matemadanda, secretary-general of the war veterans association. There was no immediate confirmation of that arrest from the police.

"A clampdown on war veterans has commenced," the lawyers said.

The association of former liberation war fighters, who have acted as a backbone of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party since independence from Britain in 1980, last week accused the 92-year-old leader of running down the southern African state, eliminating rivals and being divisive in politics and manipulative in general.

On Wednesday, Mugabe called the veterans' leaders "rebels" when he addressed a rally organised to demonstrate he still enjoyed huge support. He said: "those behind the statement would be punished for their crimes and of seeking regime change."

Analysts say Mugabe is facing growing opposition even from his own party over his drive to seek re-election in 2018, when he will be 94. They also say he wants to impose his wife Grace as his eventual successor instead of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, long seen as the most likely candidate.

(Reporting by Cris Chinaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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