Zimbabwe streets deserted after anti-govt protests are banned

Harare (AFP) –


Police and soldiers mounted checkpoints on empty streets in Harare on Friday after the Zimbabwean authorities warned of a crackdown on the eve of planned protests.

Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume of a small party called Transform Zimbabwe had called for demonstrations against alleged state corruption and the country's slumping economy on the second anniversary of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's disputed election.

But people stayed home after police on Thursday banned the protests.

"All security arms of government are on full alert and will deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence," they warned.

There were more checkpoints and roadblocks than usual on roads leading to the centre of the capital, with police and soldiers stopping cars to request identification and exemption documents allowing them to enter the city.

In the central business district, there was a heavy presence of police at most intersections, carrying batons and some with anti-riot shields, an AFP journalist said.

A police truck drove around an open space on the outskirts of the city -- a traditional assembly point that the opposition have named Freedom Square.

A truckload of police was parked next to the Parliament building.

Shops, banks and petrol stations were shut.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi told AFP they had received no reports of any incident.

"it's peaceful. Everything is certainly under control," he said.

Ngarivhume was arrested last week along with a prominent international journalist, Hopewell Chin'ono, and charged with inciting public violence.

State prosecutors accuse the pair of recklessness for organising a protest in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak.

The UN's high commission for human rights has warned Zimbabwe against using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext for restricting freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The government has denounced the planned protests, calling them "a violent uprising".

Ruling ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa earlier this week claimed that US ambassador Brian Nicholls was sponsoring the protests and called him "a thug".

There has been widespread disillusionment with Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in November 2017.

He promised to revive the moribund economy, but many Zimbabweans say they are worse off than they were under Mugabe.

The country has recorded 3,092 virus cases including 53 deaths.