Empty streets in Zimbabwe as security forces thwart protest

HARARE (AP) – Streets were empty in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns yesterday as hundreds of military troops as well as police thwarted an anti-government protest and enforced a coronavirus lockdown.

Organisers said demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but are now targetting the ruling political party, using the hashtag ‘#ZANUPFmustgo’.

Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy implodes.

Inflation is more than 700 per cent, the second highest in the world.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has described the planned protest as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government”. He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert”.

Normally teeming downtown Harare was deserted as soldiers and police patrolled and manned checkpoints. An army helicopter hovered over some of the capital’s poor, volatile suburbs.

Security forces on Thursday drove people out of the city and forced businesses to close.

“So both the government and the people are afraid of protests more than coronavirus,” chuckled a security guard, walking along an empty road.

“I have never seen these security people so effective, and the people so compliant, even during those days of the complete lockdown.”

The southern African country had gradually relaxed its lockdown to allow for some commercial activity, but it continues to ban protests as part of lockdown rules.

The opposition and human rights groups have said they witnessed abuses such as arrests, detentions, beatings and the stalking of activists and ordinary people accused of violating the lockdown ahead of the planned protest.

Police and government spokespeople have dismissed the allegations, even as a prominent journalist and a politician behind the protest have spent close to two weeks in detention.

Mnangagwa’s administration accuses the United States (US) government of funding the two men and other activists involved in mobilising the protest, with a ruling party spokesman this week calling the US ambassador a “thug”.