HARARE Aug 26 (Reuters) – Zimbabwean police on Friday fired tear gas at opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice president Joice Mujuru as a protest rally against President Robert Mugabe descended into violence, a Reuters witness said.
Tsvangirai and Mujuru fled the rally in their cars, the witness said.
Security forces have cracked down on rising protests against Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF in recent months as the public vents its anger at economic mismanagement, high unemployment and chronic cash shortages.
Police on Friday fired teargas and a water cannon to disperse anti-government supporters, who responded by hurling rocks, as a protest against President Robert Mugabe turned violent, a Reuters witness said.
More than a hundred police officers in riot gear, backed up by water cannons and armoured trucks, occupied the venue that opposition parties planned to use for their march.
Mugabe’s opponents have become emboldened by rising public anger and protests over an economic meltdown, cash shortages and high unemployment. Mugabe, 92, has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
As opposition supporters arrived for the march, they were told by the police to leave. The officers then fired teargas and a water cannon when parts of the crowd refused to comply, a Reuters witness reported.
A few dozen supporters, who earlier chanted anti-Mugabe slogans, threw rocks at the police and burned tyres on the roadside near the square where the protest was due to start.
“We are not going anywhere and demonstrating is the only solution left to force the dictator out of office,” said Tapfuma Make, an unemployed 24-year-old from Chitungwiza town, south of the capital Harare.
Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled that police should allow the protest to proceed between 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. (1000-1400 GMT).
“We view this as a victory for democracy. The demonstration is going ahead,” MDC secretary general Douglas Mwonzora told reporters following the court’s decision.
Opposition parties leading the protests say the electoral commission is biased in favour of the ruling ZANU-PF and is run by security agencies loyal to Mugabe, charges the commission denies.
The protesters want the next vote in 2018 to be supervised by international observers, including the United Nations. They are also calling for Mugabe to fire corrupt ministers, scrap plans to introduce local bank notes and end cash shortages.
Opposition leader and head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, and former vice president Joice Mujuru will lead the demonstration, which they expect to draw thousands of supporters.
Zimbabwe’s police used teargas and a water cannon on Wednesday to break-up a march by MDC youth supporters who were protesting over economic mismanagement and what they say is brutality by security agencies.
Follow the hashtag #GrandDemo
12:06 Corner Jason Moyo and Rotten Row has been barricaded as police appear to have lost the battle against the determined youths
12:04 Chinhoyi way no longer a one way system as traffic is flowing in every direction as they flee away from police who are running battles with the protesters.
11:34 Traffic volume out of town increases.
11:30 MDC T youths have literally taken over the main entrance into the city centre via Samora Machel with barricades from Rekai Tangwena Ave.
11:20 Traffic officers atthe showgrounds are instructing drivers to make a U-turn. A water cannon, which is capable of destroying the barricade, has driven past and did not destroy it.
11:04 One of the supporters beaten inside the court
11:01 Police stopping protesters despite a high court reprieve.
Breaking: High Court clears Nera Demo.
10:59An old woman runs as police put on a chase.
10:54The road that leads into the Freedom Square has been barricaded.
10:38 Police appear ready to descend on the singing youths.
10:37 Police have caused commotion at the court after they descended on everyone at the court.
10:32 Youths are singing in front of a water cannon.👆🏼
10:20 With instructions from a senior police officer, police are asking people to move towards the court area but the people are resisting and daring the police water cannon them.
10:18 Meanwhile there are reports that trouble is also brewing in the city centre.
10:17 People are all over the square and youths are regrouping each time the police disperse them.
09:44 Demonstrators have gathered at the Magistrates Court as police have cordoned off the Freedom Square where the protest was supposed to start from.
09:43 They are firing teargas canisters and beating up anyone who attempts to move into the square.
Police dispersing protesters from Freedom Square throwing tear gars #GrandDemo
By 9 a.m there was a heavy presence of police all over Harare with multiple roadblocks on major roads leading into the Central Business District.
The Freedom Square, where the protesters are converging, is manned by anti-riot police who are reportedly forcing people to move out of the area.