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Zim crackdown probe pledged

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Several people were dragged from their hospital beds and arrested. Some were shot in the head at close range and died.

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 file photo, protestors gather on the streets during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices in Harare, Zimbabwe. 2019 is already a busy year for internet shutdowns in Africa, with governments ordering cutoffs as soon as a crisis appears. Zimbabwe ordered a total internet shutdown in recent days during protests over a dramatic fuel price increase and a resulting deadly crackdown. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File

ZIMBABWE’S president yesterday said “unacceptable” violence by security forces would be investigated after a days-long crackdown on economic unrest, while a doctor said that 12 documented deaths and more than 300 people wounded were likely “just a fraction of the actual victims”.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for a national dialogue among political parties and civic leaders, even as arrests continued.

He spoke after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, under pressure to return home.

Zimbabwe’s military is in the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people reported being hunted down in their homes. More than 600 have been arrested, with most denied bail.

The “army is on the forefront of orchestrating the violence”, backed by the ruling Zanu-PF party youth gangs and police, Dr Norman Matara with the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told reporters in Joburg.

The pattern of injuries in the more than 300 wounded and the 12 dead suggested premeditation and training in torture, Matara said, and “we think these numbers are just a fraction of the actual victims” as some were too scared to seek treatment.

Several people were dragged from their hospital beds and arrested. Some were shot in the head at close range and died.

About half of those wounded were bystanders hit by stray bullets when the military opened fire on crowds. The group documented abuse of people as young as nine.

Some medical professionals, accused of “trying to subvert the government” by publicising the toll, were now afraid to help victims, Matara said.

Mnangagwa said insubordination would not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll”.

He, however, defended the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the world’s most expensive. Authorities said it was aimed at easing the demand that created long lines at petrol stations.

But Zimbabweans who had seen no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in 2017 after the ouster of long-time leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labour leaders called for people to stay at home in protest. Others took to the streets, some looting in anger or desperation.

Blamed

Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces killing or wounding bystanders.

“Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said.

The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said eight people were killed, and criticised the use of the military and live ammunition. It said the government had not learnt from the August crackdown and should compensate “victims of military and police brutality”.

Mnangagwa previously said he was open to dialogue with the main opposition MDC party, which narrowly lost both the July election and a court challenge alleging fraud. He has dismissed a government of national unity.

The opposition labelled the president’s call for dialogue a “gimmick to buy time”.

“Mnangagwa’s overtures are always on Twitter. He knows where we are, yet he has chosen not to talk to us directly,” said MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume.

Its leader Nelson Chamisa said his attempts at dialogue had been “spurned and mocked” and that people must be free to talk without fear.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said police detained labour federation leader Japhet Moyo overnight, hours after releasing him. He is charged with subversion for organising the national strike along with pastor and activist Evan Mawarire.

Police also detained 28 people who were being treated at a hospital Harare, the lawyers’ group said, calling it “very inhumane”.

At Davos, Mnangagwa had planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans.

South Africa recently turned down his request for a $1.2billion (R16.7bn) loan but it is now considering a bailout “as long as it is affordable for our side”, said Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

President Cyril Ramaphosa again suggested that the US’s and other countries sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted or relaxed.

Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in Davos “we don’t need to be told by anyone that we need to do better on human rights or open up democratic space, we need to do it for ourselves.” He hoped to gain access to $500million in lines of credit at the Davos gathering. AP