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Zimbabwe Bans Opposition Demonstrations, Police on High Alert

Zimbabwe Riots

Zimbabwe Bans Opposition Demonstrations, Police on High Alert

MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police have banned street demonstrations planned by the main opposition on Friday and anyone who takes part would be committing a crime, a police spokesman said, likely escalating political tension in the southern African nation.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the protests will be peaceful, but police earlier issued a statement saying they believe the protest will turn violent.

National police spokesman Paul Nyathi said the police commander for Harare central district had issued “a prohibition notice” against the planned demonstrations and the organizers had been notified that there would be security implications if they proceeded with their actions.

“Anyone who therefore participates in the demonstrations will do so in contravention of public order and security act and the law will take its course,” Nyathi said in a statement. “The police will be conducting patrols, surveillance, stop and searches to ensure law and order is maintained in all areas of the country.”

An MDC official told Reuters the party was not aware of the prohibition order, adding that at their last meeting with police at 5 p.m. (1500GMT) on Thursday, law enforcement agents had not indicated they would ban the protests.

“The demonstration is going ahead. The constitution is very clear, we only need to notify the police, which we did and we expect them to ensure there is peace,” Luke Tamborinyoka, the MDC deputy spokesman, said.

The MDC, which disputes Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidential election win last year, has called Friday’s protest against the government’s handling of the economy, which is mired in its worst crisis in a decade.

Authorities are jittery following violence that rocked the country in January, when protests against a sharp fuel price rise resulted in looting of shops and running battles between police and protesters.

When the army was deployed, some protesters were shot and rights groups said dozens of activists were seized from their homes in night raids and badly beaten by security agents.

Nyathi said in a statement earlier that law enforcement officers had recovered stones and catapults stashed in central Harare, which he said were part of evidence showing that Friday’s demonstrations would be violent.