Police armed with guns, truncheons and crude whips fired teargas at hundreds of people waiting to hear a speech by their leader Nelson Chamisa.
The officers then charged the crowds, beating them with the truncheons and kicking them. Several people were injured, including an elderly man who sustained a deep head wound.
Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of State's Bureau of African Affairs – America's top diplomat in Africa – said the latest crackdown on the opposition showed that newly-adopted security laws, which the government claims are reformative, have had no impact in curbing the excesses of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government.
"We are concerned by the police's unprovoked use of force against peaceably assembled Zimbabweans today and call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease such violence against its own population," Nagy said in a tweeted statement on Wednesday.
"We note that the passage of new legislation has had no impact on the actions of the government of Zimbabwe's respect of freedom of assembly and other rights. We urge the government of Zimbabwe to respect its 2013 Constitution in permitting non-violent public gatherings."
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the MDC headquarters after the party was denied permission to hold a rally at Africa Unity Square by the police.
Chamisa had been expected to make the address from the MDC HQ balcony instead.
As the crowd danced to party songs blaring from speakers on the balcony, baton-wielding police arrived to disperse them.
"Many people were beaten up and injured," MDC spokesperson Daniel Molokele said. "We condemn the police brutality in the strongest terms".
Chamisa visited some of the injured at a private hospital on Thursday morning.
"Why brutalise the elderly and women like this?" Chamisa tweeted following the visit. "All dictators ultimately fall," he added.
Molokele said Mnangagwa's government was as oppressive as the regime of the man he ousted, former president Robert Mugabe.
"It's the same old regime. Worse than Smith," he said referring to Ian Smith, the white-minority prime minister of the 1960s and 70s, who declared independence in defiance of Britain, the country's colonial power.
"Maybe they are afraid that what they did to Mugabe in November 2017 will repeat itself," said a man wearing a red MDC beret who identified himself as Terry T, referring to the military-led coup against Mugabe two years ago.
Chamisa had been expected to speak about the general state of the country including its entrenched economic crisis, corruption and the crumbling health system in an speech dubbed the ‘Hope of the Nation Address'
Zimbabwe's economy, crippled by decades of mismanagement under Mugabe, has failed to rebound under Mnangagwa, and many Zimbabweans say the situation has got worse.
Hyperinflation is wiping out savings; unemployment is estimated at around 90 percent; fuel, medicine and other essentials are in short supply; and doctors and some public-sector workers have stopped going to work as they cannot afford the cost of commuting.
Many families live on one meal a day.
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