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Jan 14, 2019 | Zimbabwe

Fuel protests turn violent in Zimbabwe

By Fanuel JONGWE with Zinyange AUNTONY in Bulawayo
Angry protesters barricaded the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township in protest at the steep rise in fuel prices.  By Jekesai NJIKIZANA (AFP)
Angry protesters barricaded the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township in protest at the steep rise in fuel prices. By Jekesai NJIKIZANA (AFP)

Zimbabwe deployed soldiers and police fired teargas on Monday as protests turned violent after the government more than doubled the price of fuel at the weekend

At least 13 people sustained gunshot wounds during the protests, according to a doctors' group.

Protesters turned back drivers and blocked buses from carrying passengers in Zimbabwe's two main cities of Harare and Bulawayo. An AFP journalist saw protesters looting a supermarket in Bulawayo.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the shock price hikes for petrol and diesel on Saturday in a bid to improve supplies as the country battles its worst gasoline shortages in a decade.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said it had "received widespread reports of protesters who have sustained gunshot wounds after being shot during the ongoing nationwide protests".

Thirteen cases had been reported by midday in and around Harare, it said in its statement. The extent of the injuries were still being assessed, it added.

In the city of Bulawayo, demonstrators attacked minibuses heading to the city centre and used burning tyres and stones to block the main routes into town.  By Zinyange AUNTONY (AFP) In the city of Bulawayo, demonstrators attacked minibuses heading to the city centre and used burning tyres and stones to block the main routes into town. By Zinyange AUNTONY (AFP)

Residents in Bulawayo said police fired teargas "indiscriminately" along city centre streets and into some residential areas.

Shops and banks pulled down their shutters in downtown Harare as riot police patrolled the streets and a military helicopter flew over the capital. Several cars were torched.

As night fell, dozens of soldiers were deployed in both cities, reporters said.

Budget airline Fastjet cancelled flights to and from Harare "due to the current unrest affecting travel on the streets of Harare", it said on Twitter.

'We have suffered enough'

Prominent writer Philani Nyoni, taking part in the Bulawayo protest, described the government's decision as "stupid", telling AFP: "We have suffered enough."

Zimbabwe's economy has been in a slump for more than a decade, suffering cash shortages, high unemployment and recently a scarcity of staples such as bread and cooking oil.

In his televised address late Saturday, Mnangagwa said the price hikes were aimed at tackling a shortfall caused by increased fuel usage and "rampant" illegal trading.

Residents in Bulawayo said police fired teargas 'indiscriminately' along city centre streets and into some residential areas..  By ZINYANGE AUNTONY (AFP) Residents in Bulawayo said police fired teargas 'indiscriminately' along city centre streets and into some residential areas.. By ZINYANGE AUNTONY (AFP)

Petrol prices rose from $1.24 a litre to $3.31 (2.89 euros), with diesel up from $1.36 a litre to $3.11 starting Sunday.

Speaking during a working visit in Russia on Monday, Mnangagwa said the increase "was necessary and still is".

In an apparent admission that the country's quasi currency is a worth a fraction of the US dollar, Mnangagwa said the $1.24 pump price as of last week was the equivalent of between 50 and 60 cents per litre.

The main labour alliance, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has called for a three-day stay-at-home strike, accusing the government of lacking empathy for the already overburdened poor.

At least 12 people were arrested during the protests, according to rights lawyers.

'Subversive political activities'

The government meanwhile accused the strike organisers of pushing a political "regime change" agenda and of "subversive political activities".

"It has become obvious that there is a deliberate plan to undermine and challenge the prevailing constitutional order," government spokesman Nick Mangwana said in a statement late Sunday.

He accused unnamed opposition parties of disguising themselves as civic groups and of sponsoring civil unrest.

But the leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa, said: "We have a national crisis which is descending into a humanitarian crisis".

President Mnangagwa said the prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased fuel usage and President Mnangagwa said the prices of petrol and diesel would more than double to tackle a shortfall caused by increased fuel usage and "rampant" illegal trading. By Jekesai NJIKIZANA (AFP)

Mnangagwa took over from long-time ruler and autocrat Robert Mugabe following military intervention, before winning the presidency in a disputed July election.

"We want Mnangagwa to know our displeasure in his failure," said another Bulawayo protester, 22-year-old Mthandazo Moyo.

"Mugabe was evil but he listened," he added.

Mnangagwa announced a package of measures to help state workers following strikes by doctors and teachers over poor pay.

Doctors in state hospitals went on a 40-day strike beginning early December demanding salaries be paid in US dollars. They also called for improved working conditions.

Mnangagwa warned that the government would come down hard on "elements bent on taking advantage of the current fuel shortages to cause and sponsor unrest and instability in the country".

Currently on a tour of European countries, he will attend the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, next week.

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