Zimbabwe soldiers patrol streets after deadly protests

Zimbabweans have taken to burning tyres and police have reportedly responded with deadly force [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Soldiers patrolled city streets in Zimbabwe on Tuesday, as confrontations with angry civilians threatened to boil over a day after violent protests against a fuel price hike led to the death of three people, including a police officer.

One of the dead was a police officer who was stoned to death by protesters in the city of Bulawayo, while two people died during protests in Chitungwiza, a town south of the capital Harare, and Kadoma, a town 141km to the west, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

In Harare and Bulawayo, banks, schools, businesses and the stock market remained shut as many residents stayed at home on the second day of a three-day general strike.

Most shops remained closed and minibus taxis that usually transport workers from the suburbs to the Harare city centre were not running.

Security forces have also been deployed to stave off further demonstrations, witnesses told Reuters, and people in Harare said they could no longer access the internet.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said she was not aware of an internet shutdown and Zimbabwe’s three mobile telecoms firms had no immediate comment.

The latest unrest followed sharp increases in fuel prices decreed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa five months after post-election violence during which six people died when the army intervened to quell trouble.

Zimbabweans accuse Mnangagwa of failing to live up to pre-election promises to kick-start growth, having seen their purchasing power eroded by rampant inflation.

The government more than doubled petrol prices at the weekend after months of shortages that saw drivers queuing for hours to fill up. Essentials such as bread and medicines have also been scarce.

As security forces faced accusations of heavy-handedness and more protests threatened to break out, Labour Minister Sekai Nzenza said public workers would get a monthly supplement of between 5 and 23 percent of their salaries from January to March while wage negotiations with unions continued.

‘Needless loss of lives’

Opposition politician Jacob Mafume denounced the “needless loss of lives” during the protests.

“Many have been injured, some of them seriously,” Mafume said.

On Monday, the police dispersed hundreds of protesters who burned tyres, erected barricades and looted businesses on the first day of the general strike.

Mnangagwa, who is on an official visit in Moscow, said Zimbabwe was interested in receiving Russian loans and might need Russia’s help in modernising its army, RIA news agency reported.

The president has also promised a clean break from the repressive regime of his long-time predecessor Robert Mugabe, who was forced out in a de facto coup in November 2017.

But critics accused Mnangagwa of resorting to Mugabe-style tactics to contain the current unrest.

“We are suffering. Mnangagwa has failed this country. Enough is enough, we no longer want this,” protester Takura Gomba said in Warren Park, a Harare township, while retreating with others as soldiers approached in trucks.

A human rights lawyers’ group said it had received reports of soldiers and police breaking into homes in townships overnight and assaulting suspected demonstrators.

Military and police spokespeople said they could not comment for the time being.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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