Zimbabwe businesses closed, streets deserted on day of protests

Zimbabwe's businesses were shut and streets deserted in the capital Harare early on Friday as security forces increased patrols to stop anti-government protests called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, has said the protests constitute an "insurrection" by the opposition.

In central Harare and nearby Mbare township - a hotbed of past protests - businesses, including banks and supermarkets, were shut as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.

"Workers were told not to come today just in case there was trouble," said a security guard, who identified himself as Martin, having a meal of tea and sweet potatoes at a bank.

Security forces increased check points on roads leading into central Harare.

A journalist in the second biggest city Bulawayo said businesses were also closed with few cars on the road.

Scores were killed during a crackdown on the last major protests in January 2019 and the government shut the internet.

Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis in more than a decade is marked by inflation running above 700%, acute shortages of foreign currency and public hospitals crippled by strikes and a lack of medicine.

Critics say Mnangagwa is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent. Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections.

The president's opponents say he has failed to unite a deeply divided nation after much hope when he took over from Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017. Mnangagwa, like Mugabe before him, says the economic crisis is the result of sabotage by businesses and an opposition funded by the West.

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