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Zimbabwe police fire tear gas, beat up MDC supporters defying protest ban

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Zimbabwean police fired tear gas and beat up more than a 100 opposition supporters with batons on Friday after they defied a protest ban in central Harare, witnesses said.

The group, singing and chanting, quickly re-emerged at the main square, where protesters were set to assemble and were again cleared by baton-wielding police.

More than a hundred Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters defied the ban, witnesses said. They clashed with Zimbabwean police who fired tear gas and water cannon, chasing them from one of the city’s main squares with batons and drafting in reinforcements to prevent the group from re-assembling.

Friday’s street demonstration was to have been the first in a nationwide series of protests organised by the MDC, which accuses Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of state-sponsored violence, corruption and economic mismanagement.

But with armed Zimbabwean police having barred access to the party’s Harare offices and its court appeal against the ban having failed, it called the protest off, denouncing what it labelled the actions of a fascist government.

The ban – announced late on Thursday by police who said any demonstrators would be committing a crime – had exposed the government’s true colours, party Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters outside the court.

“The constitution guarantees the right to a demonstration … yet this fascist regime has denied and proscribed this right to the people of Zimbabwe,” he said on Friday.

“…We have jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the coup of November 2017… We don’t accept the conduct of this regime, the conduct of Mr Mnangagwa.”

In Geneva, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights commissioner urged the government to engage with citizens on legitimate economic grievances and “stop cracking down on peaceful protesters.”

The series of demonstrations has been widely viewed as a test of how Mnangagwa, who has so far this year failed to make good on promises of political and economic reform, responds to dissent in a country tainted by a long history of repression.

Elected after the armed forces intervened to oust Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa has said he aims to break with the long legacy of repression that characterised much of his predecessor’s 37 years in power.

But the economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade, and Mnangagwa is struggling to convince the growing ranks of poor citizens that his government’s austerity measures and reforms can trigger a recovery.

Zimbabweans had also expected last year’s vote to usher in a new dawn of expanded political rights and an end to the country’s international pariah status, but instead, the elections left the country more polarised.

In January, a violent security crackdown in Harare against fuel demonstrations left more than a dozen people dead.

Days ahead of the planned Harare demonstration, six political activists were abducted from their homes at night and beaten by armed men, a coalition of rights groups said.

On Friday, the apparatus of the state was out in force again and the city’s streets were unusually quiet.

Reuters witnesses saw police and armed soldiers searching buses, taxis and private vehicles at checkpoints and randomly asking for identity documents.

One woman was taken to hospital by ambulance after sustaining a deep gash on her head when baton-wielding police charged at MDC supporters.

“We want to change because we are tired of promises. We are tired, enough is enough,” MDC member Patience Gurure told Reuters moments before police dispersed the group.

By 12 noon, businesses, including banks and shops, had closed. The few employees who had come to work were told to go home.

Anger is mounting as Zimbabweans grapple with soaring inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, fuel and bread.

In a letter to church leaders published on Friday in the state-owned Herald newspaper, Mnangagwa said the economic hardship had its roots in sanctions imposed by the West more than a decade ago as well as a severe drought this year.

He also said MDC leader Nelson Chamisa had rejected his invitation to dialogue meant to resolve Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems. Chamisa has said he will only sit down with Mnangagwa if there is a neutral arbiter.

“The doors of national dialogue are still open to all political leaders including to the leader of the MDC,” Mnangagwa said.

While political leaders argue, wages and pensions continue to be eroded by triple-digit inflation, bringing back bad memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago, which forced the country to ditch its currency. Reuters

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BUSINESS

Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers

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Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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NEWS

Chinamasa calls U.S. ambassador ‘thug’ as anti-government protests loom

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Chinamasa

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government.

Without providing evidence, ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that U.S. ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, was involved in subversive activities to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chinamasa’s comments echo the Robert Mugabe era, where the ZANU-PF government regularly accused the United States and Britain of seeking to dislodge it from power.

“He (Nichols) continues to engage in acts of undermining this republic and if he does so, if he continues engaging in acts of mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders,” Chinamasa said.
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”

The U.S. embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to Chinamasa’s comments. Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African nation after activists called for demonstrations on July 31 against government corruption, which they blame for deepening the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Last month, the government summoned Nichols after a senior White House official said Zimbabwe was among “foreign adversaries” using the civil unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd to interfere in U.S. affairs.

The U.S., Britain, E.U. embassies and the United Nations have all criticised Zimbabwe for the arrest of journalists and political challengers.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the West were promising when Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, but have soured over the government’s human rights record.

Patrick Chinamasa urged party supporters to defend themselves from protesters and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed post-election demonstrations in August 2018 and the January 2019 protests over a steep fuel price hike.“No, this time no. Use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves,” Chinamasa said. Organisers say this week’s protests will be peaceful. Reuters

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HEALTH

Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Agriculture Minister Dies

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Perrence-Shiri-Dead

Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perence Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has died, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Perence Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement. He did not say how Shiri died.

But domestic media said Shiri, 65, succumbed to complications from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,817 and killed 40 in Zimbabwe.

A liberation war veteran,Perrence Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.

The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Perence Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.Reuters

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