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Published On: Fri, Aug 26th, 2016

Zimbabwe on the brink as Harare burns, army moves-in

HARARE – Zimbabwe opposition leaders forced to flee anti-Mugabe rally after being teargassed.

On Friday police 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.

Anti-Mugabe protesters have become increasingly angry amid economic turmoil that has left cash shortages and high unemployment.

Anti-Mugabe protesters have become increasingly angry amid economic turmoil that has left cash shortages and high unemployment. Credit: Reuters

Zimbabwean’s opposition leaders have been forced to flee a protest rally against President Robert Mugabe after being fired with tear gas by police as a court-sanctioned demonstration descended into violence.

A Reuters witness said Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice president Joice Mujuru fled the rally in their cars as more than 100 riot officers battled protesters.

Security forces have cracked down on rising protests against the 92-year-old Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF in recent months.

Riot officers armed with shields and batons clashed with demonstrators.

Riot officers armed with shields and batons clashed with demonstrators. Credit: Reuters

Tsvangirai and Mujuru had been due to lead the latest rally in the capital Harare, which was protected by the nation’s High Court, to call for the government to introduce changes ahead of the next election in 2018.

The call for electoral reform is coupled with widespread anger over the country’s economic turmoil that has left cash shortages and high unemployment.

Opponents of Robert Mugabe armed themselves with rocks during the clashes.

Opponents of Robert Mugabe armed themselves with rocks during the clashes. Credit: Reuters

The latest clashes occurred as scores of riot officers occupied the venue that the emboldened opponents of Mugabe planned to use to march.

A Reuters witness said police, backed up by the water cannons and armoured trucks, fired on the protesters after they refused orders to leave the site.

A woman ran past teargas as opposition party supporters clashed with police in Harare.

A woman ran past teargas as opposition party supporters clashed with police in Harare. Credit: Reuters

A few dozen demonstrators threw rocks at the police and burned tyres on the roadside near the square where the public action 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.

An opposition supporter stood defiant against armed officers.

An opposition supporter stood defiant against armed officers. Credit: Reuters

An opposition supporter stood defiant against armed officers. Credit: Reuters

Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled the authorities should allow the demonstration to proceed between 12pm and 4pm local time but police did not observe the order.

Zimbabwean journalist Privilege Musvanhiri tweeted a photograph of the court order carrying today’s date.