Zim president says he will return home, skip World Economic Forum after week of deadly turmoil

2019-01-20 20:04
President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Picture: AFP)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa (Picture: AFP)

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Zimbabwe's president he will return home and skip the World Economic Forum after a week of turmoil in which activists have said at least a dozen people have been killed in a government crackdown.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa had been under growing pressure to come home from a two-week overseas visit as accounts emerged of abuses by security forces, including deaths, dozens of people wounded by gunfire and others hunted down in their homes.

Zimbabwe has seen days of unrest since Mnangagwa announced a sharp rise in fuel prices that made the struggling country's gasoline the most expensive in the world.

Mnangagwa in his Twitter post doesn't mention the violence, saying only that he is returning "In light of the economic situation".

The first priority, he said, "is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again."

At Davos, he planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans to the southern African nation, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from longtime, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the international community.

A year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests have caused widespread concern.

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Growing frustration over rising inflation, a severe currency crisis and fuel lines that stretch for miles finally snapped after Mnangagwa announced the fuel price increase.

Civic leaders called for Zimbabweans to stay at home for three days in protest. Other people took to the streets. Some looted, in desperation or anger. The military was called in, and with Mnangagwa overseas, the hard-line former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was left in charge. A crackdown began.

More than 600 people have been arrested, among them a prominent pastor and activist, Evan Mawarire, who has supported the protests on social media and now faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge. More than 400 people have been denied bail, said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. On Sunday a court ruled that Mawarire has a case to answer and will hear his appeal to be released on bail on Monday.

Mawarire has called it "heartbreaking" to see the new government acting like that of former leader Mugabe, who stepped down under military pressure in late 2017 and was succeeded by former protege Mnangagwa.

In what critics have called an attempt to cover up abuses, the government in the past few days has imposed an internet shutdown across the country.

"Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history," the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference said last week, lamenting the government's "intolerant handling of dissent" and its failure to halt economic collapse.

Read more on:    emmerson mnangagwa  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  zimbabwe protests
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