The United States has called on the Zimbabwean military to use restraint when dispersing opposition protesters as Harare’s CBD is in lockdown.
Zimbabwean police confirmed that the death toll from Wednesday’s pandemonium had risen to three people killed after the army opened fire in central Harare during demonstrations over alleged fraud in the country’s elections.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police would like to confirm the unfortunate deaths of three people during the riots and melee which occurred in Harare Central business district,” police spokesperson Charity Charamba told state television.
The US embassy said in a statement: “We urge leaders of all parties to call for calm… We further urge the Defense Forces of Zimbabwe to use restraint in dispersing protesters.” It added it was “deeply concerned” by events in the Zimbabwean capital.
Chaos broke out after soldiers opened fire to disperse stone-throwing opposition supporters who accused the ruling party of trying to rig Monday’s presidential election.
Gunfire crackled in the streets while troops, backed by armoured vehicles and a military helicopter and some with their faces masked, cleared the streets.
One person was shot dead near a bus rank, witnesses at the scene told a Reuters photographer. Police have confirmed the death of two more people.
The deployment of soldiers and their beating of unarmed protesters is a setback to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s efforts to shed Zimbabwe’s pariah status after decades of repression under Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in November.
Even before the violence, European Union observers questioned the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary poll, the first since Mugabe’s forced resignation after nearly 40 years in charge of the Southern African nation.
The unrest started soon after opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa claimed he had won the popular vote.
Scores of his supporters who had been burning tyres in the streets then attacked riot police near the Zimbabwe Election Commision (ZEC) headquarters. Officers responded with tear gas and water-cannon.
“I was making a peaceful protest. I was beaten by soldiers,” said Norest Kemvo, who had gashes to his face and right hand. “This is our government. This is exactly why we wanted change. They are stealing our election.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Zimbabwe’s political leaders and people to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence.
Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the army had been called in to ensure “peace and tranquility”.
A police spokeswoman said the troops were deployed at the request of police, who could not cope with the violence. They will remain under police command, the spokeswoman, Charity Charamba said.
Political analyst Itani Ndlovu said: “I honestly don’t understand why the Zimbabwe military had to use live ammunition? Was it necessary? But at the same time was it necessary for the MDC people to try and force their way into the elections results centre?
“In the first place why call in the army for public disorder. You use the police. Army comes in when there is a war. Just goes to show that Zimbabwe is not a democracy but a military state. I am so disheartened right now. I used to be proud to call myself Zimbabwean. Not after this.
It’s truely a sad day to be a Zimbabwean. The military had no role to play in this, things were going fine absolutely without them. I think that the MDC people pushed their emotions too far. Could they not have allowed the results to be finalised. Why try to force your way into the ZEC elections centre? And especially so when your leaders were saying that they would make the country ungovernable,” Ndlovu said.
The top pictures that capture the commotion
Wither the rainbow
Fire and fury
ZEC in pieces
Showing the finger
Pictures by Reuters, AP and Getty Images
Comment on this report: Call/text/whatsapp: (+27) 834767918