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Zimbabwe police seal off major cities ahead of anti-government protests

Friday July 31 2020
Zim

Zimbabwe police ask for travel documents at a road block in Mbare township on July 31, 2020, where they were deployed following a ban on anti-government protests. PHOTO | JEKESAI NJIKIZANA | AFP

By KITSEPILE NYATHI

Harare

Zimbabwe's security forces forced businesses in major cities to shut down on Thursday ahead of protests that President Emmerson Mnangagwa says are meant to topple his government.

Civic society groups and opposition parties have been mobilising for protests against alleged corruption in government, which they want to roll out on Friday.

The government's response has been heavy-handed, with the arrest of opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume and prominent investigative  journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for allegedly organising the protests.

The two were last week denied bail and on Thursday, the Harare court postponed their appeal to Monday.

Police say they are also hunting at least 13 opposition and civil society activists, who are allegedly organising the protests.

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EMERGENCY

Tendai Biti, the vice-president of the mainstream opposition MDC Alliance, said the government had imposed a de facto state of emergency.

"The regime has blocked all access to Harare's central  business district," Mr Biti said.

"Citizens are being turned away without regard to the law and their documents' authenticity. A de facto state of emergency is now at play."

Armed soldiers and riot police patrolled CBDs in other cities including Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Gweru and Masvingo where they ordered people to return home.

Human rights monitors used social media to post videos of soldiers beating up people in Harare as they tried to stop them from venturing into the city centre.

PRESIDENT'S CLAIM

President Mnangagwa told a meeting of his ruling Zanu PF party on Wednesday that some activists were working with foreigners to topple his government through protests.

He warned that security forces would thwart the demonstrations and branded the organisers of the protests terrorists.

"I warn organisers of this ill-fated demonstration that our security forces will be vigilant and on high alert to appropriately respond to their shenanigans,"President Mnangagwa said.

"I urge all patriotic and law abiding citizens to shun these malcontents and reject their divisive and ruinous plans. It must never be in doubt that the objective of these rogue Zimbabweans, acting with foreign appendages, financiers and supporters, is to stage an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government."

US AMBASSADOR

The ruling Zanu PF early in the week threatened to expel United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols, accusing him of sponsoring the protests.

President Mnangagwa's party also suspended a senior official on accusations that she was found with posters promoting the protests.

The 77 year-old ruler has in recent months come under pressure to revive the collapsing economy.

His government was last week accused by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights of using the cover of the lockdown to control the spread of the novel coronavirus to clampdown on freedoms of assembly and expression.

CURFEW

President Mnangagwa last week imposed a dusk to dawn curfew, which he said was meant to slow down the spread of coronavirus, but critics said he wanted to forestall protests.

Since coming into power following a military coup that toppled long time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, the Zimbabwean leader has used the army to ruthlessly end protests.

ln 2018, soldiers shot dead six people in central Harare after opposition supporters took to the streets to protest against delays in the release of presidential election results.

Last year, human rights groups said soldiers deployed to quell the January protests over a steep increase in the price of fuel killed at least 17 people and raped several women in their homes.

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