Zimbabwean police used batons, teargas and water cannon to beat up and disperse supporters of the main opposition party gathered outside party headquarters in the capital to hear a speech by their leader.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa said the police action showed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was afraid of its citizens.
The MDC accuses Mnangagwa of adopting the heavy-handed tactics of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until his generals turned against him in a coup two years ago.
On Sunday Mnangagwa defended his record in an opinion piece carried by CNBC Africa, saying his administration was opening up political and media space.
Police this year banned several MDC gatherings, saying they feared violence after fuel protests in January became deadly and more than a dozen people died following a security crackdown.
Hundreds of police blocked roads leading to MDC headquarters in Harare. Supporters continued to gather, singing and chanting before Chamisa’s arrival.
A few minutes after he entered the party building police charged the crowd with batons and fired teargas causing a stampede.
Several people were injured. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said it deployed lawyers to represent at least eight people arrested.
Police spokesman Paul Nyathi declined to comment.
“END IS NIGH”
After Wednesday’s clashes, Chamisa told reporters and party officials at the MDC offices the time would come when the MDC would no longer seek police permission for gatherings.
“What this tells you is we have a rogue regime. What this tells you is we are in a pariah state,” he said during a speech dubbed the hope of the nation address.
“When you see a regime so scared of its own people, you know the end is nigh.”
Critics accuse Mnangagwa’s government of intolerance of dissent, pointing to protest bans and activist arrests since January on charges of subverting government.
At a Magistrate’s Court in Harare, prosecutors withdrew subversion charges against activist pastor Evan Mawarire, one of several people arrested during January fuel protests, his lawyer told Reuters.
Political tension is rising in Zimbabwe, where citizens grapple with an economic crisis that has seen rolling power cuts of up to 18 hours a day and shortages of foreign currency, fuel and medicine.
Most public sector doctors are on strike over pay since September, paralysing government hospitals where the poor seek treatment. Other public sector workers demand US dollar-indexed salaries to protect them from soaring inflation.
Critics say Mnangagwa failed to keep promises made during last year’s election campaign to revive the economy by pushing through economic reforms, attracting foreign investment to create jobs and rebuilding collapsing infrastructure.