‘Violence by security forces unacceptable’

HARARE (AP): Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday said violence by security forces was “unacceptable and a betrayal” and will be investigated after a week of economic crisis and crackdown in which activists said a dozen people were killed. President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for a “national dialogue” among political parties and civic leaders, even as arrests continued. He spoke after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to return home.

Zimbabwe’s military is in the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people report being hunted down in their homes by security forces and severely beaten. Doctors treated dozens of gunshot wounds. More than 600 people were arrested, most denied bail. Mnangagwa said insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll.” He defended, however, the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the most world’s expensive. Authorities said it was aimed at easing the demand that created miles-long lines as gas stations, with some families sleeping in their cars.

But Zimbabweans who had seen no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in 2017 after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labor leaders called for people to stay at home in protest. Others took to the streets, some looting in anger or desperation. Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces opening fire on crowds and killing or wounding bystanders, including a 17-year-old. “Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said, noting “wanton violence and cynical destruction.”

The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission laid the blame on security forces, saying eight people were killed and criticizing the use of the military and live ammunition. It said the government had not learned its lesson from the August crackdown, and it should compensate “victims of military and police brutality.”