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Zimbabwe anti-government protests at New Zealand Test match

Zimbabwe cricket supporters sing the national anthem on the first day of the second Test against New Zealand at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, on August 6, 2016 © AFP / Jekesai Njikizana

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Aug 6 – Hundreds of protesters waved Zimbabwe’s national flag and sang the national anthem during a cricket match against New Zealand on Saturday, in a sign of mounting opposition to President Robert Mugabe.

Circumventing laws which forbid political gatherings without police clearance, protestors at the ground in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, rose at the 36th over and began singing the national anthem while waving the national flag, which has been turned into a symbol of protest.

“I am in complete support of the protest because of the situation in the country,” activist Mandla Dungeni told AFP.

“We need to get the message across that it’s time up, using whatever means available to us. There will be more of these and I am certain they will have the desired impact.”

A woman who asked to be identified as Rose said: “It’s difficult to fend for ourselves let alone send our kids to school. It’s not a secret that this government has failed. That is why you are seeing all these people gathered here are concerned about how things are.”

Pastor Evan Mawarire who called for a national strike last month which shut down businesses and schools and paralysed the public transport system was behind the protest, according to a video he posted on Facebook.

Police had earlier arrested at least 10 members of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) who staged a protest outside the venue of the Test match calling on Mugabe to fix the ailing economy or step down.

“Mugabe Must Go” one placard read, and another protestor called for resistance to a government plan to introduce token bank notes to ease cash shortages. The demonstration was dispersed by mounted police.

After 36 years of Mugabe’s authoritarian rule, Zimbabwe has seen a rise in opposition protests fuelled by internet activism using the hashtag “ThisFlag” – a reference to wearing the national flag in public.

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Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) leader Jenni Williams protests while being arrested after picketing against abolition of bond notes outside Queens Sports Grounds in Bulawayo on August 6, 2016 during a match against New Zealand © AFP / Zinyange Auntony

On Wednesday hundreds of protestors held a march in the capital calling on 92-year-old Mugabe to step down over worsening economic troubles which have seen banks running short of cash and the government failing to pay its workers on time.

Three weeks ago, Zimbabwe’s independence war veterans, who had been loyal allies of Mugabe, issued a strongly-worded statement calling on him to step down.

Despite his advanced age, the president has fought back, vowing to crack down on leaders of the protests.

The ruling party on Thursday expelled four war veterans suspected to be behind the criticism.

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