Zimbabwe businesses closed, streets deserted on day of protests

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s businesses were shut and streets deserted in the capital Harare early on Friday as security forces increased patrols to stop anti-government protests called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, has said the protests constitute an “insurrection” by the opposition.

In central Harare and nearby Mbare township – a hotbed of past protests – businesses, including banks and supermarkets, were shut as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.

“Workers were told not to come today just in case there was trouble,” said a security guard, who identified himself as Martin, having a meal of tea and sweet potatoes at a bank.

Security forces increased check points on roads leading into central Harare.

A journalist in the second biggest city Bulawayo said businesses were also closed with few cars on the road.

Scores were killed during a crackdown on the last major protests in January 2019 and the government shut the internet.

Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in more than a decade is marked by inflation running above 700%, acute shortages of foreign currency and public hospitals crippled by strikes and a lack of medicine.

Critics say Mnangagwa is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent. Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections.

The president’s opponents say he has failed to unite a deeply divided nation after much hope when he took over from Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017. Mnangagwa, like Mugabe before him, says the economic crisis is the result of sabotage by businesses and an opposition funded by the West.

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