Zimbabwe protest called off

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Zimbabwe’s main opposition MDC party succumbed to pressure from what it labelled a fascist government, calling off a street protest as armed police set up roadblocks and barred access to its Harare offices.

Friday’s demonstration was to have been the first in a series planned by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which accuses government of corruption and economic mismanagement.

The protests are widely viewed as a test of how President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has so far failed to make good on promises of political and economic reform, responds to dissent in a country tainted by a long history of repression.

Police on Thursday banned the Harare event and said anyone taking part would be committing a crime and a High Court judge on Friday dismissed an application by the party to overturn the ban.

The ban, which the MDC would not appeal, exposed government’s “true colours,” party Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters.

“The constitution guarantees the right to demonstration yet this fascist regime denied and proscribed this right to the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We have jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the coup of November 2017. We don’t accept the conduct of this regime, the conduct of Mr Mnangagwa.”

Elected after the armed forces intervened to oust Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa aims to break with the legacy of repression characterising much of his predecessor’s 37 years in power.

The economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade and Mnangagwa struggles to convince ever growing ranks of poor citizens his government’s austerity measures and reforms can trigger recovery.

Zimbabweans expected last year’s vote to usher in a new dawn of expanded political rights and an end to international pariah status, instead elections left the country more polarised.

APPARATUS OF THE STATE

In January, a violent security crackdown in Harare against fuel demonstrations left more than a dozen people dead.

Days ahead of the planned Harare demonstration, six political activists were abducted and beaten by armed men, a coalition of rights groups said.

On Friday, the apparatus of state was out in force and the city’s streets were unusually quiet.

Reuters witnesses saw police and armed soldiers searching buses, taxis and private vehicles at checkpoints and randomly asking for identity documents.

More than a hundred opposition supporters chanted party slogans and sang in central Harare where protesters were to assemble, but were chased away by baton-wielding police.

A woman was taken to hospital after sustaining a deep gash on the heard.

Police blocked roads to MDC headquarters.

Most businesses, including banks, were closed as workers stayed at home. A major supermarket that opened speedily closed doors fearing tensions would escalate.

Anger is mounting as Zimbabweans grapple with soaring inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars, fuel and bread.

In a letter to church leaders published in the state-owned Herald newspaper, Mnangagwa said economic hardship had its roots in sanctions imposed by the West more than a decade ago as well as a severe drought this year.

He said MDC leader Nelson Chamisa rejected his invitation to dialogue meant to resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems. Chamisa will sit down with Mnangagwa if there is a neutral arbiter.

“The doors of national dialogue are open to all political leaders including to the leader of the MDC,” Mnangagwa said.



While political leaders argue, wages and pensions continue to be eroded by triple-digit inflation, bringing back memories of hyper-inflation a decade ago, which forced the country to ditch its currency.