US presses Zimbabwe reform in rare meeting

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seen here in May 2019, has vowed to curb protests, dismaying those who hoped he would usher in change (AFP Photo/SIPHIWE SIBEKO) (POOL/AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - The United States on Wednesday pressed Zimbabwe for political reforms after it cracked down on protesters, in a rare high-level meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, said he met Mnangagwa in Mozambique on the sidelines of a US-Africa business meeting.

"I stressed the urgent need to hold security forces accountable for acts of violence committed against Zimbabweans including in August 2018 and January/February 2019 and the importance of real political and economic reforms," Nagy wrote on Twitter.

At least 17 people were killed at the start of the year after troops intervened in widespread rioting and looting triggered by Mnangagwa's announcement that fuel prices would double in a country suffering spiraling living costs and regular shortages of basic commodities.

In putting down the protests, Mnangagwa warned that the government would target rights groups deemed to be anti-government, further dashing hopes that had risen when veteran authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe was ousted in 2017.

Troops in August opened fire on protesters in Harare, killing several of them, with the opposition accusing Mnangagwa of fraud in the country's first post-Mugabe election.

Mnangagwa had initially promised a fresh start for Zimbabwe after decades of repression and economic decline including skyrocketing inflation.