Zimbabwe police with riot gear fired tear gas and struck people who gathered on Wednesday to hear a speech by the country’s top opposition leader amid growing frustration with the collapsing economy.
Dozens of people ran and dodged baton blows in the capital, Harare. Officers cordoned off the Movement for Democratic Change party headquarters ahead of Nelson Chamisa’s speech and patrolled with water cannons.
Chamisa said the latest police action showed that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was afraid of its citizens.
The MDC accuses Mnangagwa of adopting the heavy-handed tactics of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe who, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until his generals turned against him in a coup two years ago. Mugabe died on Sept. 5.
Police have this year banned several MDC gatherings, saying they feared the events would turn violent after fuel protests in January became deadly and more than a dozen people died following a security crackdown.
After some of his supporters were left injured and bleeding on Wednesday, Chamisa told the gathering that “Mnangagwa has scaled new levels of dictatorship. Our country is burning … Why would you beat people who are at their head office? Is the MDC now a banned party?”
Police denied accusations they had banned this latest event. Spokesman Paul Nyathi said police and opposition organizers agreed to move the event to a venue on the city’s outskirts.
The opposition said it had a letter confirming the ban. The latest actions “show how democratic space is still suppressed just like during Mugabe’s time,” said spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka, referring to the late Robert Mugabe, the former longtime leader who was forced to step down in 2017.
Some Zimbabweans allege that repression is now worse than under Mugabe, who oversaw widespread rights abuses that led to international sanctions against individuals including Mnangagwa.
Public discontent has grown in Zimbabwe with Mnangagwa, who has struggled to fulfill promises of economic prosperity and more political freedoms. The health system has largely collapsed amid the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.