Monday, July 04, 2016

Police Battle Rioters in Zimbabwe's Capital
Zimbabwe — Jul 4, 2016, 12:05 PM ET
Associated Press

Police in Zimbabwe's capital on Monday fired tear gas, water cannons and warning shots during riots by minibus drivers and others protesting alleged police harassment. The violence, in which 30 people were arrested, came amid a surge in protests in recent weeks because of increasing economic hardship and alleged mismanagement by the government of President Robert Mugabe.

An Associated Press journalist saw protesters severely beat two police officers with sticks, then take their uniforms and helmets and wear them.

The riots come before a planned strike Tuesday by state hospital doctors and other government workers who said they will protest the government's failure to pay their June salaries on time.

The protesters blocked roads leading into the center of Harare, forcing many people to walk up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) to get to work. Rioters threw stones at police and vehicles, and some children on their way to school were caught up in the chaos.

Outnumbered police later sought to negotiate with the crowds after failing to disperse thousands of protesters, who were concentrated in Harare's eastern suburbs. Many rioters were young men who can't find regular employment and make a living off drivers by charging a small fee to load passengers into minibuses.

Some police were seen firing live ammunition into the air to ward off the crowds. They also brought in police dogs.

The drivers' grievances stem from anger over numerous roadblocks that police sometimes set up in city streets, which drivers allege are to demand bribes. Police said they had reduced the number of roadblocks after complaints from parliamentarians, tourism operators and others.

Thirty people were arrested for inciting the protests, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said.

"We have information and intelligence on the identities of some criminal elements who are behind the social unrest," Charamba said at a news conference.

Such acts of defiance and clashes with the police are rare in Zimbabwe, although the government deployed the army against 1998 riots over soaring food prices. Mugabe, 92, has ruled the southern African country since independence from white minority rule in 1980, scoffing at frequent allegations of human rights violations.

Frustrations over rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, compounded by dissatisfaction over alleged government corruption and incompetence, have resulted in near-daily protests in recent weeks. On Friday, protesters burned a warehouse at Beitbridge, a busy border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa, over a Zimbabwean decision to ban a wide range of imports.

Seventeen people appeared in court on Sunday over the Beitbridge protests and were charged with public violence.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been pleading with Western countries to unlock financing for Zimbabwe in the form of loans that were halted close to two decades ago. The financing dried up due to failure to repay debts as well as international sanctions imposed because of concerns over democratic rights.

Some recent political protests have been notable for their brazenness. Police said they are looking for Lumumba William Matumanje, a former ruling party activist who used an obscenity to denigrate Mugabe while launching his own political party last week. People have often been sent to jail for such conduct in Zimbabwe.

Last month, video footage showed an anti-government protester shouting in the lobby of an upscale hotel in Harare and haranguing police until they move in and drag him away. The video shows a protest by activists angry at Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko's alleged 18-month stay in a $400-a-night hotel suite in the capital, Harare.

Activist Sten Zvorwadza was charged with threats to commit malicious damage to property and was freed on $200 bail.

The majority of Zimbabwe's citizens survive on just a dollar a day, the official statistics agency says.

Taxi drivers' protest turns violent in Zimbabwe

Drivers accuse police of corruption, saying officers seek to raise money by imposing hefty fines on their vehicles.

A protest by Zimbabwean taxi drivers against a police crackdown turned violent when residents joined in and hurled rocks at police, who fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the rioters.

Taxi and minibus drivers, along with company owners, accuse police of corruption, saying they raise money for their operations by imposing hefty fines on their vehicles.

In the last month, amid rising unrest over economic woes, Zimbabwe has witnessed spontaneous protests against government corruption, shortage of money and government plans to circulate local bank notes.

The protesters closed roads and burned tyres in the eastern part of the capital Harare on Monday, as local youth engaged in running battles against armed police wearing riot gear.

Officers responded with batons, tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds. Some school children were caught up in the violence as well.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba told reporters that anti-riot police were deployed in two townships outside Harare and arrested 30 people in connection with the violence.

The southern African country is facing a cash crunch resulting in banks running out of notes. The government has failed to pay June salaries to majority of its workers.

Without public transport, many residents in Harare were forced to walk to work on Monday. More protests are scheduled for Wednesday.

Monday's clashes come days after residents protested in the border town of Beitbridge, 600km south of Harare, last Friday against restrictions on imports of basic goods from South Africa.

Zimbabwe has suffered years of economic decline and mass emigration since President Robert Mugabe took power in 1980, when the country won independence from Great Britain.

Source: Agencies

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