HARARE, — The European Union on Tuesday expressed concern at the use of brute force by Zimbabwean police in quelling recent protests and demonstrations by the opposition.
“Police have a duty to facilitate the conduct of undisturbed peaceful demonstrations and petitions. Use of force should only be considered as a last resort and always be proportionate,” the EU said in a statement ahead of planned demonstrations by pressure groups and the opposition on Wednesday and Friday respectively.
The planned demonstrations are the latest in a wave of anti-government protests by opposition members in Harare in recent weeks to express anger over alleged misrule by President Robert Mugabe’s government as well as to push for electoral reforms before the next elections in 2018.
In the previous protests, police have used tear gas, water cannons and beaten up demonstrators, resulting in violent clashes between the police and the protesters.
Last Friday’s demonstration in particular proved to be one of the most violent ones after police went on the rampage and indiscriminately fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters, some of whom burnt tyres and placed boulders on the roads.
The ensuing chaos resulted in looting of shops in the central business district.
While condemning the violence, the EU called on the government to respect citizens’ constitutional right to peaceful demonstrations, saying these rights must be exercised peacefully and fully respected by the authorities.
“Any form of violence, including incitement to violence and advocacy of hatred or hate speech, must be condemned by all parties in the strongest possible way,” the EU said.
The EU appealed to demonstrators and the police to refrain from mutual, violent provocations and for calm, mutual respect and dialogue by all the parties.
The government has so far arrested and charged 68 people with public violence following last Friday’s violent protests.
Mugabe has strongly warned the opposition against causing anarchy in the country, saying Arab-Spring style protests will not succeed in Zimbabwe.