Deadly ri­ots rock Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal as vote re­sults de­layed

The Western Star - - WORLD -

Sol­diers and po­lice fired live rounds, wa­ter can­nons and tear gas at fu­ri­ous pro­test­ers who threw rocks and burned ve­hi­cles Wed­nes­day in Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal, dash­ing the op­ti­mism of an elec­tion that the coun­try hoped would set it on a new course af­ter decades of Robert Mu­gabe’s rule. At least three peo­ple were re­ported killed.

Vi­o­lence swept through central Harare af­ter an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment that the rul­ing ZANU-PF party had won most of the seats in Par­lia­ment, an out­come that en­raged op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers who be­lieve they have been cheated of vic­tory.

The Zim­babwe Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to de­lay an­nounc­ing the re­sults of the pres­i­den­tial race at least un­til Thurs­day — three days af­ter the vote — seemed cer­tain to bring more op­po­si­tion anger if Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa is de­clared the win­ner. Al­ter­na­tively, many Zim­bab­weans won­der whether the rul­ing es­tab­lish­ment, in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary, would ac­cept a win for the main op­po­si­tion leader, Nel­son Chamisa.

Mon­day’s up­beat spec­ta­cle of mil­lions of Zim­bab­weans vot­ing peace­fully was eclipsed 48 hours later by scenes of tanks and other mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles speed­ing through de­bris-strewn streets and sol­diers beat­ing pro­test­ers who had blocked main roads and set bon­fires. Some jour­nal­ists also were at­tacked.

Gun­fire was heard down­town through­out the af­ter­noon, in­clud­ing near the rul­ing party head­quar­ters where pro­test­ers had gath­ered. Po­lice fired tear gas and grabbed more can­is­ters from an of­fi­cer car­ry­ing them in a crate.

Three peo­ple were killed, state broad­caster ZBC said. As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists saw two bod­ies and an­other per­son who had been shot in the leg. There were pools and trails of blood on the streets.

The ri­ots surged up to the fence of the Rain­bow Tow­ers Ho­tel & and Con­fer­ence Cen­tre, where the elec­toral com­mis­sion has been an­nounc­ing re­sults and many in­ter­na­tional elec­tion ob­servers are stay­ing. In­side the main gate, a wa­ter can­non mounted on a po­lice ve­hi­cle blasted pro­test­ers who hurled rocks that bounced off its ar­moured plat­ing.

“They are try­ing to protest so they can get fair re­sults,’’ said Elisha Pfigu, a 31-year-old street ven­dor who war­ily watched sol­diers at an in­ter­sec­tion.

Pfigu said he was op­ti­mistic on elec­tion day for the coun­try’s first vote without Mu­gabe, who ruled for nearly four decades, on the bal­lot.

“Now it’s dif­fer­ent. It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent’’ he said. “Peo­ple were happy on Mon­day. Now they are not happy. We are not go­ing to rest.’’

Au­thor­i­ties in­voked Zim­babwe’s Pub­lic Or­der and Se­cu­rity Act, which al­lows po­lice to ban pub­lic meet­ings or gath­er­ings. The po­lice can also ask the mil­i­tary for help in cases of pub­lic dis­tur­bances. Under Mu­gabe, the law was used rou­tinely to ban anti-gov­ern­ment meet­ings and demon­stra­tions since its en­act­ment in 2002.

Mnan­gagwa, a for­mer deputy pres­i­dent who suc­ceeded Mu­gabe af­ter a mil­i­tary takeover in Novem­ber, blamed the op­po­si­tion for the vi­o­lence and said it was “meant to dis­rupt the elec­toral process,’’ the state broad­caster re­ported.

The op­po­si­tion, in turn, said se­cu­rity forces acted in a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate and un­jus­ti­fied’’ way, and it ques­tioned why the mil­i­tary had been de­ployed.

“Are we in war? Are civil­ians the enemy of the state?’’ said Nku­l­uleko Sibanda, spokesman for the Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change, the main op­po­si­tion party.

United Na­tions deputy spokesman Farhan Haq ap­pealed to Zim­babwe “to ex­er­cise re­straint and re­ject any form of vi­o­lence while await­ing res­o­lu­tion of the dis­putes and an­nounce­ment of the elec­tion re­sults.’’

In­ter­na­tional mon­i­tors gave their first as­sess­ments of the elec­tion, say­ing it was con­ducted in a rel­a­tively free en­vi­ron­ment and was a big im­prove­ment over past votes marred by vi­o­lence and irregulari­ties, al­though they noted sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems.

Euro­pean Union ob­servers said “a truly level play­ing field was not achieved’’ in the elec­tion, point­ing out the “mis­use of state re­sources, in­stances of co­er­cion and in­tim­i­da­tion, par­ti­san be­hav­iour by tra­di­tional lead­ers and overt bias in state me­dia.’’

Elmar Brok, head of the EU ob­server mis­sion, said there were “many shortcomin­gs’’ in the elec­tion, but it was un­clear whether they in­flu­enced the re­sults.

The op­po­si­tion al­leged irregulari­ties, say­ing re­sults were not posted out­side one-fifth of polling sta­tions as re­quired by law. MDC leader Chamisa has said out­right that his own count shows he won the elec­tion, draw­ing gov­ern­ment ac­cu­sa­tions of in­cit­ing vi­o­lence.

Af­ter first in­di­cat­ing it would re­lease pres­i­den­tial vote to­tals on Wed­nes­day, the elec­toral com­mis­sion said it would wait un­til Thurs­day, adding that agents for the more than 20 can­di­dates must ver­ify them first.

AP PHOTO

Zim­bab­weans protest in down­town Harare, Zim­babwe, Wed­nes­day. Zim­babwe’s elec­toral com­mis­sion said it would say “some­time to­mor­row” when it can start an­nounc­ing the re­sults of the race pit­ting Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa against op­po­si­tion leader...

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