Zimbabwe Police Tear-Gas Protesters Urging Electoral Reform

  • Opposition demonstrating against current polling process
  • High Court ruled action in capital, Harare, could go ahead

Zimbabwean riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters in the capital after the High Court ruled that a demonstration by opposition parties to demand changes in the electoral system could go ahead.

Clashes broke out in different parts of central Harare on Friday as protesters lobbed tear-gas canisters back at the police and pelted them with stones. Some vehicles were also set ablaze while unrest spread west across parts of the city. At least 50 people were injured, former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who leads the Zimbabwe People First party, told reporters.

The authorities appear “determined to crush the people’s will,” Tendai Biti, leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and a former finance minister, said by phone from Harare.

President Robert Mugabe, 92, has faced increased protests in recent months as an unprecedented liquidity crisis has led to civil servants, including the military, receiving salaries late and some private-sector workers being given goods instead of pay. That sparked a national strike on July 6 that shut down much of Zimbabwe. The country was also hit by riots as taxi operators protested against police harassment.

Opposition Unity

Sponsors of the protest in the capital, Harare, include Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Mujuru and opposition figures including Biti and Welshman Ncube, according to Tsvangirai and a spokesman for Mujuru’s party. They plan to present a petition to the electoral commission.

Eighteen opposition parties met Aug. 23 to plan the march to demand changes to electoral procedures, including giving them access to the voters’ roll and the establishment of an independent electoral commission that’s no longer controlled by the Justice Ministry.

“Today’s brutal suppression of the people will not stop them from exercising their rights as given by the constitution,” MDC-T spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said in a statement to reporters. “The police should stand warned not to continue to provoke the peace-loving and innocent people of Zimbabwe whose only crime today was to attempt to exercise their rights.”

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