Zimbabwe police fired teargas to disperse protesters calling on President Robert Mugabe to step down yesterday, a week after the longtime ruler warned that protests “don’t pay”.
Police beat the protesters with batons, before firing on the crowd with teargas. About 200 people had gathered in central Harare, carrying flowers for peace and holding posters, saying “Mugabe Must Go”, the latest in a string of protests over the country’s economic woes.
Onlookers, pedestrians and motorists were caught in the melee as anti-riot police moved in with their batons, maintaining a heavy presence in the city centre after the demonstration was dispersed.
Mugabe, 92, who has ruled for 36 years, said last week: “Protests don’t pay, because usually they end up being violent. “What does it help to go in the streets with the intention to show that you are able to throw stones? “To throw stones, to hit the police – we do not want that.”
The veteran African leader has faced mounting opposition as his cash-strapped government struggles to pay civil servants and the military on time.
The resistance has been fuelled by internet activism using the hashtag “ThisFlag” – a reference to wearing the national flag in public.
Several war veterans’ leaders, long seen as loyal allies of Mugabe, have also been arrested after issuing a strongly-worded statement last month calling on the president to step down.
Protest leader Promise Mkwananzi said yesterday’s demonstration was just a build-up to a national shutdown on August 31.
“There will be no business as usual,” he said.
“Everybody must participate in the stayaway.”
Mugabe is increasingly fragile but has vowed to stand for re-election in 2018, although party seniors have long been jockeying to step into the role when he dies.
Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and Vice- President Emmerson Mnangagwa are among the possible successors to the world’s oldest president.