Zimbabwe police break up anti-government protest

Several people, including journalists, were wounded when riot police in Harare used batons, tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators protesting against the handling of the economy by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Anti-riot police chase after protesters during a march against President Robert Mugabe's government's handling of the economy in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 3, 2016.

Riot police in Zimbabwe used batons, tear gas and water cannon on protestors, who had gathered in Harare to protest the handling of the economy by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

The 92-year-old president, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it gained independence from Britain in 1980, has recently been under increasing pressure from citizens as well as veteran allies to step down.

Hundreds of people marched on the streets of the country’s capital against government plans to introduce local bank notes, as authorities grapple with a serious dollar crunch.

Many of the marchers wore the national flag around their necks — seen as a symbol of a surge in recent protests — while unemployed graduates wore academic gowns and others held wooden Christian crosses.

Protesters hold banners and crosses during a march against the introduction of new bond notes and youth unemployement on August, 3, 2016 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Among the slogans on placards were "Once Liberator, Now Oppressor", "Mugabe Must Go" and "You Have Failed Mr Mugabe."

Police kept watch while the marchers presented a petition at the Ministry of Finance office in central Harare. 

As the protestors approached the Parliament building they were baton charged and tear gassed by law enforcement personnel.

Speaking out

Several people were wounded in the police action while fleeing crowds also resorted to stone pelting in response. The police beat at least three reporters, including a BBC journalist, and broke his camera as well.

"One of our members was beaten up and seriously injured. We are trying to establish where he has been taken," Rodwell Nyika, of the Zimbabwe Coalition for Unemployed Graduates, told AFP.

Fellow protester Samuel Meso said: "We were protesting peacefully and this is what we get."

The graduates had been denied police permission to march in Harare, but they joined a separate protest against government plans to introduce bond notes — a local token currency equivalent to the US dollar.

Many Zimbabweans fear the bond notes could revive the hyperinflation that destroyed the economy in 2008 and 2009.

A man wearing a hat decorated with worthless note bearers' cheques during a protest against government plans to introduce bond notes -- a local token currency equivalent to the US dollar, and unemployement on August 3, 2016 in Harare.

"We don't want bond notes because they will wipe out the few US dollars left. They have come to destroy the country. We do not want them," said protester Wesley Chawada, who was waving the old Zimbabwean dollar currency, which was dumped in 2009.

Former vice president Joice Mujuru on Tuesday challenged the planned issuance of the bond notes at the Constitutional Court.

Demonstrators also denounced Mugabe, accusing ZANU-PF of failing to create up to 2.2 million jobs that it had promised during its campaign for the 2013 presidential vote, which Mugabe won amid opposition charges of rigging.

"Mugabe just quit, I will forgive you," read one placard, while another said, "No to police state, you have failed Mr Mugabe."

Zimbabwe's economic collapse has worsened this year, with the government now without the funds to pay even its military or civil servants on time.

A series of street protests has erupted in past weeks, despite 92-year-old Mugabe's record of using his ruthless security forces to crush public dissent.

Anti-riot police are seen trough a broken car window after they clashed with protesters during a march against President Robert Mugabe's government's handling of the economy in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 3, 2016.

After 36 years of Mugabe's authoritarian rule, Zimbabwe has witnessed several anti-government protests in recent months, including the biggest stay-at-home demonstration by trade unions and activist pastor Evan Mawarire's #ThisFlag movement in July.

"ThisFlag" is a reference to wearing the national flag in public.

The one-day strike in July shut down offices, shops, schools and some government departments.

Mawarire, who has become the figurehead of the anti-government protests, is currently in South Africa with no set date for his return to Zimbabwe after Mugabe threatened him directly.

The world's oldest and increasingly frail president has vowed to stand for re-election in 2018, his last under a new constitution. Party seniors have long been jockeying to step into the role when he dies.

Mugabe's wife Grace and vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa are among the possible successors to the world's oldest president.

His ambitions have deepened divisions in ZANU-PF, with war veterans opposing his bid and supporting Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.

Veterans denounce Mugabe

Two weeks ago, Zimbabwe's independence war veterans, who had been loyal allies of Mugabe, issued a strongly worded statement denouncing him and asking the president to step down.

Despite his advanced age, the president has fought back, vowing to crack down on leaders of the protests and to punish war veterans behind the criticism.

Zimbabwe War Veterans Secretary General Victor Matemadanda reacts as he is escorted by Zimbabwean Policemen to a court hearing on August 1, 2016 in Harare after being arrested.

As a purge against Mugabe's former allies intensified, his ZANU-PF party expelled nine senior officials, including four war veteran leaders linked to a July 21 statement that also called him a manipulative dictator.

"We know how to deal with our enemies who have been trying to bring about regime change," Mugabe said in a speech last week.

Several war veterans' leaders have been arrested on charges of undermining and insulting the office of the president by a Harare magistrates court.

On Wednesday, four of them were released on $300 bail each and ordered to report twice a week to the nearest police station, their lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told AFP.

TRTWorld and agencies