Zimbabwe fuel protests turn deadly

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Several people were killed and about 200 arrested during protests in Zimbabwe government said, two days after it raised the price of fuel in an attempt to tame the worst economic crisis in a decade.

Police fired tear gas in Harare and Bulawayo where protesters barricaded roads, burned tyres and chanted songs against President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who upped fuel prices in the hope of easing a currency shortage.

Security minister Owen Ncube said some people died, but gave no details. He blamed the unrest on the main opposition party and political rights groups.

“Regrettably, this resulted in the loss of life and property, including injury to police officers and members of the public. Full investigations are underway,” Ncube said in a statement.

The Human Rights Forum, a collective of local groups, said it received reports of five people with gunshot wounds. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said its Harare headquarters was torched but the fire was extinguished. It did not say who was behind the attack.

Authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of post-election violence in August when six people died after the army intervened.

Riot police patrolled downtown Harare as army helicopters circled above. Businesses closed early and schools called parents to pick their children, fearing violence.

The main labour union called for a three-day stay-at-home strike starting Monday and central Harare was deserted by 4 pm. Commuters walked home because there was no public transport.

“I am stranded and have no idea how I’m going to go home,” resident Leeroy Kabanga told Reuters.

Airline Fastjet cancelled its remaining flights to and from Zimbabwe on Monday due to the unrest.

“TIME FOR THINGS TO SETTLE”

Mnangagwa defended his fuel policy, saying prices in Zimbabwe were the lowest in the region.

“Zimbabwe is going through both political and economic reforms and these do not come easily. It will take time for things to settle and results to be shown,” he told reporters in Moscow at the start of a five nation foreign trip some analysts expected him to cancel.

“In normal circumstances the president should have cancelled the trip or booked a flight back home to deal with an urgent situation, it could be he has absolute confidence his deputy is in charge,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

Cash shortages plunged the economy into disarray, threatening widespread social unrest and undermining Mnangagwa’s efforts to win back foreign investors who left under Robert Mugabe.

Daily life is becoming increasingly tough with prices of basic goods spiralling and medical supplies in short supply. Motorists wait for hours to fill up at fuel stations where soldiers are often deployed to break up fights over who is next in line.

FEAR OF VIOLENCE

In Bulawayo, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters outside the High Court, according to video footage from the Centre For Innovation & Technology, an independent news service which also showed people looting.

Zimbabwe, which uses the US dollar after abandoning its currency in 2009 after hyper-inflation, plans to introduce a new currency in the next 12 months.

Zimbabweans are still traumatised by hyper-inflation, which hit 500 billion percent in 2008 and left the local currency worthless, wiping out savings and pensions. Inflation hit 31% in November, the highest in a decade.

Businesses and civil servants demanding pay in dollars. Zimbabwe’s largest brewing company Delta Beverages, part-owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev, threatened to accept only US dollars as payment but reversed its decision after government-led negotiations.

Government on Monday postponed wage negotiations with civil service unions, who are planning a nationwide strike from January 22 to press for US dollar pay.



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