Military show of strength amid Zimbabwean protests

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Zimbabwe’s military put on a show of force to deter further unrest after at least three deaths in violent protests over steep fuel price hikes with continuing disorder blocking the flow of key supplies.

Zimbabweans accuse President Emmerson Mnangagwa of failing to live up to pre-election pledges to kickstart growth, having purchasing power eroded by hyper-inflation and of resorting to armed force to crush dissent like strongman predecessor Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa promised a clean break from the 37-year Mugabe era. Residents said the army was beating up suspected protesters in townships.

“We are suffering. Mnangagwa has failed this country. Enough is enough, we no longer want this,” protester Takura Gomba said in Warren Park, a Harare township, retreating with others as soldiers approached in trucks.

Amnesty International condemned the military crackdown, saying at least 200 people had been arbitrarily detained and called on Zimbabwean authorities to ensure restraint by security forces and respect the public’s right to protest.

Monday’s street disturbances followed sharp increases in fuel prices decreed by Mnangagwa, five months after post-election violence which saw six people die when the army intervened.

As security forces faced accusations of heavy-handedness and more protests threatened, Labour Minister Sekai Nzenza announced public workers would get a monthly supplement of between five and 23% of their salaries from January to March while wage negotiations with unions continued.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters a police officer was stoned to death by protesters in Bulawayo. Two people died during protests in Chitungwiza and Kadoma.

Mnangagwa, on an official visit in Moscow, said Zimbabwe was interested in Russian loans and might need Moscow’s help in modernising its army, RIA news agency reported.

BUSINESSES, PUBLIC SERVICES SHUT DOWN

In Harare and Bulawayo, banks, schools, businesses and the stock exchange remained shut as many residents stayed at home.

A human rights lawyers’ group said it received reports of soldiers and police breaking into homes in townships overnight and assaulting suspected demonstrators.

Security forces deployed in population centres to stave off further demonstrations, witnesses said, and people in Harare said they could no longer access the internet.

Amnesty, in a statement, said the internet was cut off to prevent people from supporting or organising protests while critics said government sought to prevent images of its heavy-handedness being broadcast.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said she was not aware of an internet shutdown.

Reports of violent disorder prompted southern African bus lines to suspend services to Zimbabwe, interrupting the flow of goods from the diaspora in adjacent countries.

“We can’t proceed because they are saying things are tough there. Buses are being burned. Roads are blocked. It’s a total shutdown,” said Alexio Chirisa. He was driving a bus full of passengers from Port Elizabeth to Harare but was forced to stop in Johannesburg.

With Zimbabwe’s banks strapped for cash, shipping essential daily commodities like rice and cooking oil to families from relatives outside the country is a favoured alternative to cash remittances.

“Years of political and economic mismanagement brought Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees. Millions of Zimbabweans are terrified about the knock-on effects that fuel increases will have on their daily lives, including food and healthcare,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International Deputy Director for Southern Africa.