Military vehicles and soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
Military vehicles and soldiers patrol the streets in Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare -Zimbabwe’s opposition party MDC called off demonstrations in Harare on Friday after a high court upheld a police order to ban the protests.

The opposition had called for protests against growing hardships as the economy is experiencing its worst decline in a decade with rampant inflation eroding wages while shortages of basic goods have become the norm.

Scores of MDC party supporters who had grouped in Harare for the protests were beaten with batons while tear gas was also used to disperse them, in scenes reminiscent of former president Robert Mugabe’s regime that was notorious for clamping down on opposing voices.

Harare remained tense on Friday as police maintained a heavy presence, patrolling the central business district and conducting searches of ordinary citizens.

Earlier police cordoned off the MDC’s headquarters in central Harare, restricting party officials from entering the building.

Speaking after the court ruling, MDC vice-president Tendai Biti said the opposition would hold other demonstrations outside Harare on Monday.

“We are now going to proceed with our intended marches in Bulawayo on Monday, August 19, we are proceeding with Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare. Today, the true colour of the so-called ‘new dispensation’ was exposed.”

The UK’s embassy in Zimbabwe tweeted that it was “concerned at the images of the heavy-handed response to disperse crowds in Harare” and called on security forces to show restraint.

In the lead-up to the planned demonstrations, six anti-government activists were abducted and alleged tortured by suspected state agents.

Police banned the street demonstration after issuing a statement late on Thursday evening saying the protests would turn violent and warning that anyone who took part would be committing a crime.

When he assumed office in November 2017, Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised to usher in a new era for the country, but little has changed in the Southern African nation, with many citizens saying life was better under Mugabe.

Previous anti-government protests have ended in deadly violence, with the military opening fire and killing innocent civilians in two separate incidents in post-election protests in August 2018 and riots over an increase in fuel prices in January.

Soldiers were also accused of raping women during the January protests.