HARARE, May 15 - The police fired tear gas and beat people who were preparing to hold a meeting on constitutional reform in the central Zimbabwe city of Gweru on Saturday, the coalition organizing the event said.
About 80 people were arrested, including the coalition's chairman, Lovemore Madhuku, said Ernest Mudzengi, spokesman for the group, the National Constitutional Assembly.
The meeting was meant to focus on an economic and political crisis for which many blame President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government.
Mr. Mugabe was quoted in The East African Standard, a Kenyan newspaper, on Saturday as indicating that he plans to retire when his term ends in 2008 and that he is seeking a successor.
It was the second time this year that Mr. Mugabe, 80, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, had suggested that he would not seek another term.
"I want to retire from politics," Mr. Mugabe was quoted as saying by The Standard. "I have had enough. I am also a writer and would like to concentrate on writing after this term of office is over."
The Constitutional Assembly, a coalition of human rights groups, political parties and student and church organizations, has lobbied for constitutional reforms in Zimbabwe since 1999.
"The police assaulted participants with truncheons," Mr. Mudzengi said in a statement, and, "20 sustained injuries. We condemn this latest act of police brutality, which we view as part of the ZANU-PF regime's increasingly insane strategies of holding on to power."
The chief police spokesman, Senior Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, said he was still getting details on the incident.
The Constitutional Assembly says flaws in the constitution make it impossible to hold free and fair elections and have helped Mr. Mugabe tighten his 24-year grip on power.
The main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, and some Western countries say Mr. Mugabe's re-election to a six-year term as president in 2002 was fraudulent.
But Mr. Mugabe, who dismisses the opposition movement as a puppet of his Western opponents, says he won fairly.