Sat, 21 Sep 2019

Police in Zimbabwe have banned a planned march by the country's main opposition in the city of Bulawayo, days after brutally dispersing protesters who defied a similar order in the capital.

Paul Nyathi, spokesman for the police, told reporters on Sunday that a "prohibition order" was issued in Bulawayo "due to security concerns".

Monday's now-banned protest, organised by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were over worsening economic conditions and the jailing of Chief Ndiweni, a known critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Nyathi said various business groups had appealed to the high court "not to allow the march to proceed as a number of these organisations lost their properties in January when similar protests were held".

In a notice banning the demonstration, the police added: "Ordinary citizens in the country are experiencing hardships so any call for the demonstrations might be taken advantage of by the already agitated citizens and violence may erupt."

Police imposed a similar protest ban last week after the MDC called for protests beginning in the capital, Harare, over the government's handling of the economy.

The MDC challenged the ban in the high court early on Friday but judges upheld the order.

Scores of protesters, many of them from the MDC, defied the ban and gathered in a square where the march was supposed to start.

Demanding an end to Mnangagwa's rule, protesters decried a severe and deepening economic crisis that has led to skyrocketing inflation for basic goods like fuel, while wages have remained stagnant.

Police used batons, whips and teargas to disperse the protesters, wounding several people. Dozens of people were arrested.

Friday's protests were the first since Mnangagwa's decision to hike fuel prices by more than 100 percent sparked nationwide demonstrations in January. At the time, at least 17 people were killed and several wounded when soldiers opened fire.

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC, said on Friday that his party would continue to mobilise against the government but that it wanted to avoid "blood in the streets".

The demonstrations are viewed as a test of Mnangagwa's willingness to tolerate dissent in a country with a long history of repression under his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who ruled for nearly 40 years.

Despite Mnangagwa's campaign promise to revive the economy, Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse with shortages of bread, fuel, medical drugs and other goods and the skyrocketing cost of living.

According to the United Nations, about five million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid.

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