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Chaos forces Zim president to skip Davos

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Soldiers have been accused of breaking into people’s homes, beating and arresting occupants

TURMOIL: People queue for fuel in Harare. Turmoil erupted in the country after massive fuel price hikes.

Zimbabwe’s president will skip the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and return home after a week of turmoil in which activists have said at least a dozen people have been killed in a government crackdown.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa had been under growing pressure to come home from a two-week overseas visit as accounts emerged of abuses by security forces, including dozens of people wounded by gunfire and others hunted down in their homes and severely beaten.

Gory images of serious human rights violations against its citizens by Zimbabwe state security forces have emerged, despite attempts to sweep them under the carpet through a government shutdown on internet services during nationwide protests.

Some victims have reportedly been mutilated while others bear broken limbs after the repressive response to the three-day strike prompted by a dramatic increase in the price of fuel.

Soldiers have been accused of breaking into people’s homes, beating and arresting occupants.

A soldier in Harare reportedly stepped on the hand of a sleeping five-year-old boy, breaking his fingers.

Zimbabwe has seen days of unrest since Mnangagwa made an announcement more than doubling fuel prices that made the struggling country’s fuel the most expensive in the world.

The first priority, Mnangagwa said . . . “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again”.

At Davos, he had planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans to the southern African nation, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from long-time, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the world.

A year of troubles in which his administration have failed to improve the collapsed economy after winning a disputed election and violently putting down anti-government protests have caused widespread concern.

Growing frustration over rising inflation, a severe currency crisis and fuel lines that stretch for kilometres finally snapped after Mnangagwa announced the fuel price increase.

Civic leaders called for Zimbabweans to stay at home for three days in protest. People took to the streets, with some looting in desperation or anger.

The military was called in and, with Mnangagwa overseas, the hard-line former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was left in charge. A crackdown began.

More than 600 people have been arrested, among them a prominent pastor and activist Evan Mawarire, who has supported the protests on social media and now faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge. More than 400 people have been denied bail, said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. On Sunday, a court ruled that Mawarire has a case to answer and will hear his appeal to be released on bail today.

Heartbreaking

Mawarire has called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government acting like that of former leader Mugabe, who stepped down under military pressure in late 2017 and was succeeded by former protégé Mnangagwa.

“Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said last week, lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

Reuters reports that South Africa turned down a request from Zimbabwe for a $1.2 billion (R16.7 billion) loan in December.

“South Africa doesn’t have that kind of money,” said National Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane.

Zimbabwean officials were not immediately available for comment.

Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled yesterday afternoon that the security minister had no authority to order mobile operators to shut down internet access to customers during protests last week and that the firms should immediately restore unrestricted access.

According to Reuters Judge Owen Tagu made the ruling as legal challenges began to a brutal clampdown on dissent by the government.

“It has become very clear that the minister has no authority to make the directive,” Tagu said in his ruling, ordering mobile operators to “unconditionally resume the provision of full and unrestricted services”.