Zimbabwe: Deadly clashes erupt over election 'results manipulation'
Deaths were reported in Zimbabwe after soldiers opened fire at protesters in the capital. President Emmerson Mnangagwa urged "peace" as his rivals blamed the government of tampering with election results.
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At least three people were killed in Harare on Wednesday as anti-government protesters clashed with security forces over the results of Monday's election. Reporters at the scene saw armored vehicles and helicopters deployed in Zimbabwe's capital, as protesters fled from soldiers firing live rounds.
By evening, police had declared a ban on public gatherings. The army was set to stay on the streets until "this situation is over," authorities said. DW reporter Melanie Cura Daball in Harare described the heavy police presence as akin to a "silent state of emergency."
Earlier, protesters had taken to the streets to urge the authorities to release the official presidential election results.
In response, police fired water cannon and tear gas at the protesters, urging them to disband. Protesters had blocked some roads, burned tires and chanted slogans against the ruling ZANU-PF party. Police then asked the military for help as they were "unable to cope," according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba's statement to the ZBC state broadcaster, with soldiers eventually opening fire.
Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said the opposition for using the presence of international observers to "grandstand" and cause "anarchy."
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Police acting like 'a headless chicken'
While the police confirmed that three people had been shot and killed so far, the death toll could rise.
Eddie Cross of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) told DW that deploying the military to disperse protesters was an "overreaction" by the interim government.
"Police are a headless chicken," Cross said, referring to the lack of leadership in the country's law enforcement body. "Young people may not take this lying down."
Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa urged local leaders to promote peace as "this day that ended in tragedy comes to a close."
Earlier, he had accused the opposition of being "responsible for this disturbance of national peace," adding that the government "went out of its way" to try to ensure the elections were peaceful.
The US Embassy said it was "deeply concerned" by the use of deadly force against protesters, calling on Zimbabwean forces to show restraint.
"We urge leaders of all parties to call for calm," the US Embassy said. "We further urge the Defense Forces of Zimbabwe to use restraint in dispersing protesters."
The UK, a former colonial power in Zimbabwe, also called for "calm and restraint."
After withholding official results for four days, Zimbabwe's election commission on Friday declared Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner of the July 30 presidential vote. The former ally of ex-President Robert Mugabe, Mnangagwa won 50.8 percent of the vote. Zimbabwe's opposition said the results were "fake" and vowed to protest.
On July 30, Zimbabwe held its first presidential election since autocratic ruler Robert Mugabe (pictured casting his vote) was forced to step down following a brief military takeover in November last year. Many hoped the vote would usher in a new, peaceful and democratic era in the African country after years of repression under Mugabe, who ruled the country from 1980 to 2017.
The controversial vote, which EU observers criticized for an "un-level playing field and lack of trust" in the run up to the election, saw the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) secure the most seats in the country's parliament. But fraud claims and a delay in issuing official results sparked violent protests in the country.
Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party took to the streets after the partial results were announced on August 1. MDC activists claimed their leader Nelson Chamisa had won the July 30 vote and that they were cheated in the election count. The government deployed the army to quell the protests in the capital Harare.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured above), who assumed power in November with the help from the military, held the MDC leadership responsible for the post-election violence. He said his government "went out of its way" to ensure the elections were peaceful. Interior Minister Obert Mpofu warned the opposition that it was "making a big mistake" by "testing our resolve."
75-year-old Mnangagwa was Mugabe's former right-hand man and was the clear front-runner in the presidential election, partly due to the powerful military's backing. 40-year-old Chamisa, who is a lawyer and pastor, performed well on the campaign trail and enjoyed support from the country's youth and urban voters.
EU election observers said the vote was "advantageous for the ruling party." But chief observer Elmar Brok also noted that while the election witnessed several irregularities, the electoral process exhibited significant progress compared with the 2013 and 2008 votes. Former colonial power Britain urged all parties to show "calm and restraint" and "take responsibility… at this critical moment."
A credible vote and a peaceful transfer of power are essential to bringing foreign investments to Zimbabwe, whose economy has been in a shambles for several years. Under Mugabe's 37-year reign, elections were often marred by fraud and violence and economic growth was stalled. The election had offered hope that the country would finally begin a new democratic era.
Opposition claims victory
Zimbabwe's electoral commission have so far announced only partial parliamentary election results, saying ZANU-PF had received a majority of seats. However, opposition politicians accused the body of dragging its feet in declaring the results of the presidential vote.
Opposition presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa of the MDC claimed victory in a tweet, saying: "We have won the popular vote."
"You voted for total change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your will."
Western election observers also called for the results of the presidential election to be released as soon as possible in order to reduce tensions.
The electoral commission has a five-day deadline to publish the results, starting with the vote on Monday. They said that "sometime tomorrow," on Thursday, they would tell the public when the results would be published.
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Vote marred by 'shortcomings'
Monday's parliamentary and presidential elections marked the first democratic process since former President Robert Mugabe stepped down in November 2017. The incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa took the office with the support of the nation's military.
Elmar Brok, chief observer for the EU's election monitor mission in Zimbabwe, told DW that the vote was marred by a "lot of shortcomings in favor of the ruling party," including through "financing, state media, intimidation, especially in the countryside."
Read more: Zimbabwe elections: Seven takeaways
But Brok noted that while the vote witnessed several irregularities, the electoral process exhibited significant progress compared with the 2013 and 2008 votes. He said that the EU monitoring mission would wait for results before further commenting on the situation.
In November, Robert Mugabe dismissed his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, after accusing him of "plotting a coup against the government." Some Zimbabweans feared Mugabe was grooming his wife, Grace Mugabe, to take over in the event of his death.
On November 13, 2017, General Constantino Chiwenga, commander of Zimbabwe's Defense Force, warned that the army could "step in" to save the country from political tension and economic crisis.
Military and armored vehicles were seen at the outskirts of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, on November 14, 2017. On the same day, the military also took over the state-run broadcaster ZBC.
On November 15, 2017, Major General SB Moyo, the military spokesman, announced on the ZBC that Mugabe and his family were "safe and sound and their security was guaranteed." He said the military was targeting "criminals around" Mugabe who were "committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering."
On November 16, 2017, General Constantino Chiwenga, along with other officials, was seen in military uniform meeting President Robert Mugabe (C) at the State House. It was reported that Mugabe was smiling as they both shook hands. However, the leaders of ZANU-PF announced that there was "no going back."
After being placed under house arrest, Mugabe appeared publicly at a university graduation ceremony on November 17, 2017. Here, a military officer adjusts a chair for Mugabe, who is dressed in a blue-and-yellow academic gown, to sit on after arriving to preside over the ceremony. Mugabe, who was reportedly tired, was then caught falling asleep.
On November 18, 2017, residents of the capital, Harare, held a protest with anti-Mugabe placards demanding the president's resignation. Veterans of the independence war, activists and ruling party leaders called publicly for Mugabe to be forced from office.
Zimbabwean War Veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa (R) arrived at a meeting of the ruling ZANU-PF party in Harare November 19, 2017. After hours of deliberation, the party announced that it had decided to fire Mugabe as leader of the party.
Many expected that after being recalled as ZANU-PF party leader, President Mugabe would use his address to the nation resign with dignity. Zimbabweans were left shocked after the rambling speech made no reference to him stepping down. Mugabe now faces impeachment, with proceedings believed to be starting on Tuesday.
Rather than face impeachment proceedings, Robert Mugabe prompted dancing in the streets of Harare when he resigned on November 22. "My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power," the 93-year-old said in a letter.
Supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate the end of four decades under Mugabe. Mnangagwa was joined by cheering crowds after he returned to Zimbabwe from exile in neighboring South Africa. He is expected to be sworn in on November 24.
ls,dj/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)
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