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Zimbabwe opposition members in court after post-election unrest

Marco Longari, AFP | President Emmerson Mnangagwa, leaving a press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe on August 3, 2018.

Members of Zimbabwe's defeated opposition party appeared in court Saturday on violence charges, two days after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner of the country's first elections following the downfall of Robert Mugabe.

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The 24 opposition members appearing in court were charged with "public violence" during protests after presidential rival Nelson Chamisa rejected the election results, insisting he was the real winner. At least six people were killed in the capital Harare after troops opened fire on demonstrators, sparking an international outcry and reviving grim memories of post-election violence under Mugabe’s repressive rule.

Nkululeko Sibanda, a top official in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said he was concerned that the government could try to implicate opposition supporters in these deaths.

Those in court were accused of smashing windows at offices of the ruling ZANU-PF party and setting fire to vehicles. They were remanded in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.

Mnangagwa has insisted that Monday's landmark election was "free, fair and credible", hailing the vote as a fresh start as he pushes for an end to Zimbabwe's international isolation.

International election observers who were invited by Mnangagwa's government after years of being banned by Mugabe said they were pulling out after issuing mixed reports on Monday's vote.

While the election itself was called peaceful, the observers expressed concern over the lack of transparency in the voters' roll and the "extreme bias" of state-run media in favor of Mnangagwa. And in a joint statement the observers criticised the military's "excessive" use of force.

Britain's minister for Africa on Saturday said the government was "deeply concerned by the violence following the elections and the disproportionate response from the security forces”.

But South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa called on all Zimbabweans to accept the result, while the United States urged the opposition to show "graciousness in defeat".

North Korea -- a former close ally of Mugabe's -- congratulated his successor, wishing Mnangagwa "good health and happiness".

A credible election is a crucial step for lifting international sanctions and attracting badly needed foreign investment in Zimbabwe's long-collapsed economy.

Killed while selling tomatoes

Mnangagwa won 50.8 percent of the vote against Chamisa's 44.3 percent, according to official results -- just enough to avoid a presidential run-off.

Chamisa has said the opposition's own count shows he won the vote and that they would challenge the election results in court. "We're doing all to secure your vote & defend your WILL," he said Saturday on Twitter.

"What we want Mr. Nelson Chamisa to do for us is to not give up on our vote," said one supporter in the capital, Tisi Habis. "No matter what the (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) says, Mr. Chamisa is our president."

In the village of Chinamhora, northeast of Harare, a crowd of 200 mourners gathered to bury 41-year-old fruit seller Ishmail Kumire, one of the victims of Wednesday's crackdown.

Relatives said he supported ZANU-PF but was caught up in the violence and killed because he had stayed at the scene, trying to protect his wares.

"He supported the ruling party -- but then it's the same ruling party that has killed him," said his brother Steven Matope.

"He was just selling his tomatoes."

Mnangagwa, 75, has said Chamisa is free to dispute the election results through the courts, though such a move appears to have little chance of changing the result.

A former right-hand man to Mugabe, Mnangagwa was chosen to lead ZANU-PF after the brief military intervention last November that ousted the autocrat after 37 years in power.

Mnangagwa was allegedly involved in violence and intimidation during the 2008 elections when the opposition pulled out of the run-off following the deaths of at least 200 supporters in attacks.

Rights groups have expressed concern that heavy-handed policing to prevent more opposition protests is a sign of how he intends to govern.

Amnesty International said more than 60 people had been "arbitrarily arrested" in a post-election clampdown on the opposition.

Former colonial power Britain said it remained "deeply concerned by the violence following the elections and the disproportionate response from the security forces".

Investment push

Seeking to lift Zimbabwe's pariah status, Mnangagwa is making a push for badly needed foreign investment, pronouncing the country "open for business" on Friday.

Mugabe left Zimbabwe's economy in tatters after presiding over the seizure of white-owned farms and hyperinflation.

Anthoni Van Nieuwkerk, an international relations professor at Wits University in Johannesburg, said Mnangagwa was well aware that his recovery plan required "goodwill and support" from the international community.

"If they roll out the soldiers -- beyond what happened on Wednesday -- throughout the country to suppress dissent, and if more people are killed, then this will spell no good news for this new incoming president," he told AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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