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Jan 14, 2019 | Zimbabwe

Fuel protests turn deadly 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)

Violent protests in Zimbabwe claimed lives on Monday as soldiers were deployed after the embattled government more than doubled fuel prices, sparking widespread anger.

Protesters burnt tyres and barricaded roads while cars were torched as demonstrations turned violent in the capital Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

Accusing the opposition and civil society organisations of being behind the protests, Security Minister Owen Ncube said: "Regrettably, this has resulted in the loss of life and property including injury to police officers and members of the public."

Ncube did not give numbers or the identities of the dead, but said investigations were underway.

At least 13 people had sustained gunshot wounds in and around Harare, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said.

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.

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 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" in the city centre and 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 saw.

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

Protesters turned back drivers and stopped buses from carrying passengers in the two main cities. An AFP journalist saw protesters looting a supermarket in Bulawayo.

At least 200 people have been arrested, the security minister said.

'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."

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.

'Subversive political activities'

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana in statement late Sunday accused the strike organisers of pushing a political "regime change" agenda and of "subversive political activities".

"The prevailing security situation in the country is a culmination of a well-orchestrated series of events by the (opposition) MDC Alliance working in cahoots with NGOs, civic society, youth organisations, pressure groups and individuals," the security minister said.

But the leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, 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.

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