January 15, 2019 / 7:48 AM / 4 months ago

Zimbabweans join stay-at-home protest after deadly clashes over price hikes

HARARE, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Streets were mostly quiet on Tuesday in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare and second city Bulawayo as banks, schools and businesses stayed shut, a day after deadly protests over economic hardship and a sharp increase in the price of fuel.

The closures followed a call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for a three-day stay-at-home protest over the sharp drop in living standards caused by a dollar crunch that has sent prices soaring and caused shortages of fuel and drugs.

Several people were killed and some 200 arrested during Monday’s protests, which followed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to hike the price of fuel in an attempt to tackle the southern African country’s worst economic crisis in a decade.

A human rights lawyers group said it had received reports of soldiers and police officers breaking into homes in Harare townships overnight and assaulting suspected demonstrators.

“Even if I wanted to go to work, where do I get the $8 to go to and from work? It is better to tend to my field,” said Malvin Chigora, a 36-year-old father of two, on his small maize field in Kuwadzana township on the outskirts of the capital.

In central Harare, banks, shops and offices were closed with few people on the streets. Most public taxis were off the road. Two local journalists told Reuters the situation was similar in Bulawayo.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR), which provides free legal services, said it had received distress calls from residents in Mabvuku and Chitungwiza who were forcibly taken from their homes and made to remove barricades from roads.

That tactic was used by security agents during the rule of long-time leader Robert Mugabe, who was ousted by his one-time ally Mnangagwa in a bloodless coup in November.

“Of concern is the involvement of soldiers in these illegal acts who are actively participating in the cruel and inhuman treatment of residents,” ZLHR said in a statement.

Six people were killed in post-election violence in August after the army intervened.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesman Overson Mugwisi and police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said they did not have sufficient information to comment.

The government has blamed the opposition and rights groups for Monday’s violence.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Information said it was looking for a man who was seen on videos posted on social media brandishing an assault rifle in Harare and giving orders to motorists.

“Where did he obtain the assault weapon ...He is suspected of shooting some innocent civilians,” the ministry said. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by John Stonestreet)

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