Zimbabwe police say to ban protests in capital for a month

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses the decision making body of his ruling ZANU PF party in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (Reuters)

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police plan to ban public demonstrations in the capital for a month, according to a public notice issued on Tuesday that opposition lawyers said marked a slide toward a police state. Political tension is rising in the southern African nation after protests in the last three months against the rule of 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980. Angered by a jobless rate above 80 percent and the worst fiscal crunch and cash shortages since the adoption of the U.S. dollar in 2009, many Zimbabweans have taken to social media to organize anti-government activities. In a notice published in the state-owned Herald newspaper, Harare police commander Newbert Saunyama announced "a proposed temporary prohibition order" for public demonstrations in central Harare from Sept. 16 to Oct. 15. A High Court judge last week ruled that a previous two-week police ban had not been issued correctly and violated the constitution. Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and prominent lawyer who challenged the initial ban, said the law the police were using was unconstitutional. Under security laws, police can ban demonstrations for up to a month if there is justification but can only do so after issuing a notice of their intention, to allow affected parties to make submissions. "It is quite clear that we are now moving into a police state and it means that lawyers like myself and others we will do everything to fight back," Biti said. Opposition parties said on Monday they would hold a weekend protest nationwide - with or without police clearance - to press the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to ensure free and fair elections in 2018. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley)