Friday 17 August 2018

Zimbabwe police break up opposition leader’s meeting after disputed election

Nelson Chamisa has declared Emmerson Mnangagwa’s poll win ‘fake’ and ‘fraudulent’.

Riot police enter the Bronte hotel (AP)
Riot police enter the Bronte hotel (AP)

By Christopher Torchia and Farai Mutsaka, Associated Press

Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election in Zimbabwe, riot police have disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the results.

Mr Chamisa had already denounced Mr Mnangagwa’s win as “fake” and fraudulent, with police later issuing a warrant for Mr Chamisa’s arrest.

The president later said scenes of riot police dispersing journalists at the briefing “have no place in our society”.

Mr Mnangagwa said on Twitter that authorities are “urgently investigating” the events.

He added that “we won the election freely and fairly, and have nothing to hide or fear”.

Zimbabwe’s closely-watched elections began with Monday’s peaceful vote, but turned deadly 48 hours later when the military opened fire on protesters. Six people were killed.

On Friday morning a truckload of police bearing shields and batons dispersed 100 local and international press members gathered to hear Mr Chamisa, without saying why they were taking such action.

The police move heightened the apprehension that remains in Harare after the army rolled in with tanks on Wednesday to disperse demonstrators who denounced Mr Mnangagwa and alleged vote-rigging in the country’s first poll following the fall of long-standing leader Robert Mugabe.

The military were not visible on Harare’s streets on Friday.

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Riot police enter the Bronte hotel (AP)

Water cannon and police remain present, however, at the headquarters of the main opposition party, a day after authorities raided it and made 18 arrests.

Mr Mnangagwa, Robert Mugabe’s former enforcer and confidante, said he was “humbled” by the victory and took to Twitter to urge Zimbabweans to stay peaceful.

The opposition said it will challenge in court the results of the election, which Mr Mnangagwa won with just over 50% of the vote.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who received more than 44% of the vote, said on Twitter that “unverified fake results” had been announced by the electoral commission.

The commission “must release proper & verified results endorsed by parties,” he tweeted. “The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling.”

In a brief moment of drama shortly before the commission announced the winner in Friday’s early hours, two agents for Mr Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change party took the stage and told waiting journalists that they “totally reject” the results, and said they had not signed them as required, in protest.

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Women participate in a religious service on the outskirt of Harare (AP)

Police escorted them from the room.

The week’s events left many Zimbabweans with a sense of unease and questions about how different Mr Mnangagwa is from his predecessor, who stepped down in November under military pressure amid a ruling party feud after 37 years in power.

The 75-year-old Mr Mnangagwa has tried to recast himself as a voice of change, declaring that the once-prosperous Zimbabwe is “open for business” and inviting the Western election observers who for years had been banned by Mr Mugabe.

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Riot police surround journalists waiting for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa (AP)

If this election is judged credible, it will be a big step towards the lifting of international sanctions on this southern African nation whose economy has long collapsed and whose reputation has suffered after years of repression of the opposition and allegedly rigged votes.

So far, international observers have issued mixed reviews, calling Monday’s election peaceful and a break from the past, but expressing grave concern about the military’s “excessive” use of force.

They criticised the delay in releasing the results of the presidential vote, saying it raised concerns about possible manipulation.

Press Association

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