Harare, June 2 (Reuters): Zimbabwe police quashed opposition protests today, arresting party leaders and firing tear gas to stop demonstrations aimed at driving President Robert Mugabe from power.
In the capital Harare, a Reuters photographer saw police forcing about 50 people, some of them women, to lie on the street while they beat them with batons and home-made whips.
Early today, police detained Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, charging him with contempt of court for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to call off the demonstrations.
The MDC said dozens of party officials and legislators had been arrested or assaulted today, the start of a week-long series of demonstrations dubbed a “final push” to force the 79-year-old Mugabe to step down.
Tsvangirai, who was later released, said the police crackdown appeared to have stopped many supporters from participating in the planned marches — described by the government as an illegal attempt to provoke a coup d’etat.
“I don’t think there will be any marches because they will not allow it,” he said.
Riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of about 6,000 University of Zimbabwe students attempting to march into Harare’s city centre, driving them back onto their campus. The city’s central business district — where shops, banks and offices were largely closed — saw more violence as police beat up dozens of protesters and arrested others. In Highfield, a township on the capital’s outskirts, police fired warning shots into the air and tear gas at a crowd of 500 protesters.
This week’s MDC protests mark the opposition's latest attempt to tighten the screws on Mugabe, whom they accuse of driving Zimbabwe’s economy to collapse with record inflation and unemployment and shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.
The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which reflects the views of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, described the protests as a flop, saying army and police patrols had maintained peace around the country.
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, police arrested the city’s MDC mayor.