Zimbabwe police crush anti-government protest in capital

Zimbabwe's opposition supporters set up a burning barricade as they clash with police during a protest in Harare for electoral reforms. (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)
Zimbabwe's opposition supporters set up a burning barricade as they clash with police during a protest in Harare for electoral reforms. (Zinyange Auntony, AFP)

Harare - Zimbabwean police used batons, tear gas and water cannons to crush an anti-government protest in the capital on Friday, despite a court order that the demonstration should be permitted.

At least 50 people were injured by the police, said former vice president Joice Mujuru, now the head of the People First party and a participant in the demonstration.

"The people's anger is very deep. Zimbabweans are beginning to say enough is enough," said another opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai at a press conference after the demonstration was dispersed.

Another anti-government demonstration will be held next Friday, said the coalition of at least 18 opposition parties and civic organisations that organised Friday's protest.

Friday's protest, dubbed the "mega demonstration", was the first time that Zimbabwe's fractured opposition joined in a single action to confront President Robert Mugabe's government since 2007.

Water cannons, frequently used to break up anti-government protests in the past two months, were sprayed against demonstrators.

Usually bustling with hawkers, the capital's streets on Friday were bristling with police wielding batons and tear gas canisters. Police were at the headquarters of the main opposition MDC-T party. Other police mounted roadblocks on roads leading into the city.

Many Harare shops closed early while others were looted. At the crowded Copacabana market, stalls were burned as protesters clashed with a group that was chanting pro-government slogans.

Tear gas blew into the annual agricultural fair, forcing officials to temporarily close the gates. Some protesters removed the road sign for Robert Mugabe Way and placed it next to a dead puppy.

Others burned tyres on the streets and threw stones and rocks at the police.

"That old man should not be allowed to take the country to the grave with him," shouted one of the protesters in the local Shona language.

Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo on Thursday accused Western countries of plotting the protests. Protests have become a near-daily occurrence in this southern African country ravaged by a tumbling economy and widespread food shortages.

Supporters of 92-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from white minority rule in 1980, say he should rule until he dies.

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