President Robert Mugabe has blamed “the West” for the outbreak of protests and violence in Harare on Friday, warning that he would not tolerate an Arab Spring.
What was supposed to be a peaceful gathering at Freedom Square – led by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition groups under the banner of the Zimbabwe People First (Zim-PF) movement – erupted in chaos when police used teargas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru, the deputy president and leader of Zim-PF, also had teargas hurled at them. This was despite a high court ruling earlier in the day that had granted permission for the gathering.
Schoolchildren and the elderly that landed up in the crossfire were assaulted with batons, while protesters tore down street signs bearing the name Robert Mugabe. While protesters initially fled the police onslaught, they later fought back, with several bloodied police officers themselves forced to flee.
The US and UK embassies in Zimbabwe expressed “serious concerns” about the suppression of freedom of expression of Zimbabweans on social media.
“The US supports freedom of speech and assembly and we call on the government of Zimbabwe to exhibit restraint and respect the human rights of all Zimbabwean citizens, including those basic rights,” read one message.
But Mugabe has blamed the embassies of these countries for inciting the violence.
He has been widely criticised for “fleeing” to Kenya for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development while his country is burning.
In an interview with state-controlled television, Mugabe blamed “foreign forces” and said he wanted a peaceful Zimbabwe without violence – even if he had to use violence to get it.
Didymus Mutasa, a former minister and ally of Mugabe, said after Friday’s violence: “We will protest until the day we vote. We have had enough of the Zanu-PF’s rule.”
Pastor Evan Mawarire, who started the #ThisFlag movement for change, recently had to flee to the US after receiving death threats. Zimbabwean police raided and searched his house on Friday.
Mawarire said on social media that police were believed to be looking for the “instigators” of Friday’s gathering.
Protest marches in Zimbabwe have, for the first time in decades, led to violence when citizens barricaded the Beit Bridge border post with South Africa over higher import taxes on products from South Africa.
Zimbabweans are also opposed to government’s plans to begin printing bond notes amid the country’s cash flow crisis.
Informal traders, who make a living by buying goods out of South Africa, say they can’t make a living with this “play money” because it is worthless.
– Sourced from News Day, Zimeye and AFP