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Three dead as Zimbabwe tightens crackdown over protests

The police used tear gas on Monday in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, to disperse hundreds of protesters © AFP / Zinyange AUNTONY

Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan 15 – Three people have been shot dead and many injured, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party said Tuesday, as security forces crack down on protests triggered by a sharp, sudden rise in fuel prices.

The streets of the capital Harare were deserted a day after widespread demonstrations when public anger erupted over the country’s worsening economic crisis.

Zimbabwe’s mobile phone networks and internet were partially shut down, with one industry source saying the systems had been jammed and many users were complaining of severely limited access.

The government more than doubled petrol prices at the weekend after months of shortages that saw drivers queueing for hours to fill up. Essentials such as bread and medicine have also been scarce.

“The information we have received is that two people were shot dead in Chitungwiza (on the outskirts of Harare) and one person in Kadoma (town),” MDC opposition party spokesman Jacob Mafume told AFP.

Map of Zimbabwe locating clashes between police and protesters in Harare and Bulawayo © AFP / AFP

“This is needless loss of lives. Many have been injured, some of them seriously.” He gave no further details.

Amnesty reported that eight people had died, without giving a source, and criticised “repressive measures” taken by the government to quash the protests.

On Tuesday morning, police fired tear gas in Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo after protesters chanted for the removal of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was on an official visit to Moscow.

An AFP reporter witnessed looting in the city, a stronghold of opposition to the ruling ZANU-PF party.

– ‘Police beat me’ –

Most shops remained closed in Harare, and minibus taxis that usually transport workers from the suburbs to the city centre were not running.

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In the suburb of Kuwadzana, police were on patrol and forcing people off the streets.

The government more than doubled petrol prices at the weekend after months of shortages © AFP / ZINYANGE AUNTONY

One resident, Tawanda Mataya, said police had beaten him and slapped his 17-year-old son.

“It’s so painful,” Mataya told AFP showing swellings on his back.

“I was standing at my gate to assess whether I could go to work then this group of police who were passing by started beating me.

“My son who heard me screaming and opened the window to see what was happening was slapped several times.”

Mnangagwa announced the fuel price hike in a televised address late Saturday, saying it was needed to tackle severe shortages and illegal trading.

He replaced longtime ruler and autocrat Robert Mugabe following a military takeover in 2017, before winning a disputed election in July.

Public anger over Zimbabwe’s worsening economic crisis erupted Monday after the govenment more than doubled petrol prices © AFP / Jekesai NJIKIZANA

Speaking during his visit to Russia, Mnangagwa said the fuel price increase “was necessary and still is”.

On Monday, police dispersed hundreds of protesters who burnt tyres, erected barricades and looted businesses on the first day of a three-day general strike.

Security Minister Owen Ncube said the security action caused “loss of life” without giving figures on the number of dead and wounded.

– Economy in ruins –

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The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said 13 people had sustained gunshot wounds in and around Harare on Monday. At least 200 people were arrested.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been in dire straits since hyperinflation wiped out savings between 2007 and 2009, when the Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned in favour of the US currency.

Zimbabweans mainly rely on electronic payments as US dollar notes are in short supply. The local “bond note” currency, introduced in 2016, is little trusted and falling in value.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow a day after the protests erupted at home © POOL/AFP / SERGEI CHIRIKOV

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa blamed the protests on “terrorism”.

“Threats to overthrow a constitutionally elected government by force and install an unelected person as president of Zimbabwe will be thwarted,” she vowed.

The Zimbabwe Trade Union Confederation (ZCTU) reiterated its call to continue the strike.

“Today it’s day two of the Shutdown. We urge workers and citizens everywhere to stay at home,” ZCTU tweeted. “There must be economic reforms for the poor to survive.”

Mnangagwa — Mugabe’s former deputy — has claimed that he represents a fresh start for the country and has vowed to revive the economy by attracting foreign investment.

Two days after July’s election in July, soldiers opened fire using live bullets on protesters in Harare, leaving six dead.

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