Zimbabwe police beat, detain opposition protesters

AFP
Zimbabwean riot police patrol outside Harare Magistrate's Court on March 19, 2013
Zimbabwean riot police patrol outside Harare Magistrate's Court on March 19, 2013 (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)

Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe riot police beat and briefly detained more than a dozen opposition protesters on Wednesday, at a demonstration over high unemployment, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

Police armed with batons descended on around 100 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change marching in the capital Harare, days after its party leader advocated a wave of nationwide demonstrations.

Protesters -- who were carrying placards reading "We demand jobs" -- were beaten and bundled into marked police vans as they headed toward parliament to present a petition to the speaker of national assembly.

Police said there were no formal arrests.

"The Zimbabwe Republic Police dispersed the unruly elements that had been in Harare's central business district who were blocking traffic and throwing stones," said spokesman Paul Nyathi.

"The constitution of Zimbabwe does not allow people to demonstrate unlawfully."

The MDC said at least three people were still in custody and denied any acts of violence.

"Our youths were peacefully demonstrating in demand for jobs. They were doing so in terms of the Constitution," said MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora.

"Initially police arrested 28, but some of them were released. We do not know about the others but we understand three are still in custody."

The protesters want long-ruling President Robert Mugabe to fix Zimbabwe's economy, which has lurched from crisis to crisis over the last 20 years, bringing bouts of hyper-inflation and excruciating levels of unemployment.

An estimated 300,000 Zimbabweans have fled to neighbouring South Africa alone to look for work.

Mugabe, now 90, was re-elected last year in a disputed vote after promising to create jobs, extending his rule into its 34th year.

He is currently on a five-day visit to China, in a bid to drum up financial support and investment for agriculture and infrastructure projects.

China invested more in non-financial sectors in Zimbabwe than in any other country on the continent last year, around $602 million, according to figures from Beijing.

Chinese companies are active in mining, construction, telecommunications and agriculture.

At least two China-linked firms, Anjin Investments and Jinan Mining, have operated concessions at Zimbabwe's hugely lucrative Marange diamond field.

But ordinary Zimbabweans have seen little impact from the trade.

The MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai -- the runner-up in last year's poll -- has suggested a series of nationwide protests against the government's failure to stem the economic meltdown.

Previous demonstrations against Mugabe's government have been brutally put down by the security services.

The latest demonstration comes a week after police quelled another MDC rally and arrested seven. Those protesters remain in custody.

Commentators see Tsvangirai's call as a reaction to growing anger among Zimbabweans about the moribund economy, and also as an attempt to reinvigorate his opposition party after consecutive electoral defeats.

Tsvangirai's leadership of the party has been called into question, with the recent breakaway of a faction led by a former finance minister.