HARARE (Reuters) - Anti-riot police used batons to break up a peaceful march in Zimbabwe’s capital on Wednesday, the latest public protest against how President Robert Mugabe’s government has handled the economy.
Mugabe, 92, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is increasingly under pressure from angry Zimbabweans, as well as his war veterans allies, who last month rebuked him as a manipulative dictator, calling on him to step down.
At a meeting of its politburo in Harare, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party expelled nine senior officials, including four war veteran leaders linked to the July 21 statement that denounced Mugabe, the party’s administration secretary said, as a purge against Mugabe’s former allies intensified.
Zimbabwe has witnessed several anti-government protests in recent months, including the biggest stay-at-home demonstration by activist pastor Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement in July.
Hundreds of people marched on the streets of Harare on Wednesday against government plans to introduce local bank notes, as authorities grapple with a serious dollar crunch.
Police kept watch and the marchers presented a petition at ministry of finance offices in central Harare. But baton-wielding police charged at the protesters as they approached the Parliament building, beating them until they dispersed.
The police beat three reporters, including a BBC journalist, and broke his camera. Some protesters threw rocks at the police, who also had water cannons, but did not use them.
“We don’t want bond notes because they will wipe out the few U.S. dollars left. They have come to destroy the country. We do not want them,” said protester Wesley Chawada, who was waving the old Zimbabwean dollar currency, which was dumped in 2009.
Former vice president Joice Mujuru on Tuesday challenged the planned issuance of the bond notes at the Constitutional Court.
Demonstrators denounced Mugabe, accusing ZANU-PF of failing to create up to 2.2 million jobs that it had promised during its campaign for the 2013 presidential vote, which Mugabe won amid opposition charges of rigging.
“Mugabe just quit, I will forgive you”, read one placard, while another said “No to police state, you have failed Mr Mugabe.”
Mugabe plans to contest the next election in 2018, his last under a new constitution. That has deepened divisions in ZANU-PF, with war veterans opposing his bid and supporting Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.
Three war veteran leaders were charged with undermining and insulting the office of the president by a Harare magistrates court, as Mugabe continues a crackdown on his former allies. The three veterans were freed on $300 bail.
Editing by Richard Balmforth, Larry King