Zimbabwe president orders probe into army shootings of protesters

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Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa has called for an investigation into army shootings of opposition protesters as he sought to stem post-election violence that killed at least three people.

Mr Mnangagwa, who has struggled to present this week’s presidential elections as being free and fair, said on Twitter that he had been in contact with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to try to defuse tension.

“The most important thing for us now is to move beyond yesterday’s tragic events, and to move forward, together,” the president said. “We believe in transparency and accountability, and those responsible should be identified and brought to justice.”

His comments came a day after soldiers stormed into the centre of Harare, shooting and beating protesters from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who were convinced that Mr Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party was rigging presidential and parliamentary elections. The president had initially sought to blame Mr Chamisa for provoking the violence but on Thursday he struck a more conciliatory tone.

However, there were reports of armed forces on the streets on Thursday and water cannon trucks were deployed to deal with any further demonstrations. Soldiers ordered bystanders to leave the streets and some shops were closed. The violence perpetrated by the army is likely to undermine Mr Mnangagwa’s efforts to move the southern African country out of international isolation. US observers have said that the poll had “not made the mark” in terms of being free and fair.

The results of parliamentary elections were released earlier in the day, showing that Zanu-PF had clinched a two-thirds majority, making it less likely that Mr Chamisa would be declared the winner of the presidential poll. The results of the presidential contest have not been released, exacerbating tensions.

In a joint statement, all international observer groups in Zimbabwe called on the electoral commission to release results “expeditiously, in a transparent and accountable manner”. “We denounce the excessive use of force to quell protests and urge the police and army to exercise restraint,” the statement added.

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At least three people were killed and scores injured as armed forces moved through the streets on Wednesday, beating people indiscriminately and firing into crowds of fleeing protesters. At least one woman was shot dead in the back.

Stephen Chan, a Zimbabwe expert at Soas, University of London, said: “The government still has a military core and a military ethos.”

“How can you be so goddamn clumsy?” he asked of Mr Mnangagwa’s administration. “You’ve gone to all this trouble to stage-manage this stuff and you’ve just gone and shot yourself in the foot.”

Protesters could easily have been controlled by water cannon, he said. Instead, the armed forces “sent out truckloads of soldiers, armoured personnel carriers, people firing live rounds, heavy-duty tear gas. It’s ridiculous.”

The polls, the first since Robert Mugabe was removed in a coup in November and the first without his name on the ballot since 1980, were supposed to mark a break from past elections. Under Mr Mugabe, violence and intimidation were common.

Nkululeko Sibanda, a spokesman for Mr Chamisa, condemned violence from all sides, but put the blame for deaths squarely on the shoulders of the armed forces and Mr Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF. “Nelson Chamisa has not ordered any guns on the street. He cannot be accused of being violent,” he said.

Mr Sibanda said that Zanu-PF’s mask had slipped. Since Mr Mnangagwa took over eight months ago, the party had sought to present itself as a reformed organisation after almost four decades under Mr Mugabe.

“This is a return to the dark days of killing thousands of civilians in Matabeleland,” said Mr Sibanda in a pointed reference to a massacre in the early 1980s in which Mr Mnangagwa, a former security chief, was heavily implicated.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times saw soldiers beating people with long batons indiscriminately. One shouted “free and fair” as he beat people in apparent mockery of the mantra for these elections.

The crackdown throws into jeopardy Mr Mnangagwa’s attempt to portray his country as moving decisively towards democracy.

Since he was installed as president in November’s coup, Mr Mnangagwa has declared Zimbabwe “open for business” and staked his reputation on attracting investment and repairing relations with international institutions, such as the US.

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Senator Jeff Flake, who was in Zimbabwe to monitor the conduct of the election, met both Mr Mnangagwa and Mr Chamisa, on Wednesday. Before the army crackdown, he had made positive comments about the process, according to one person who met him, but was said to have been rattled by Wednesday’s violence. The US embassy condemned the army’s conduct.

In the past, the US has vetoed European-led efforts to restructure Zimbabwe’s debt arrears with the IMF and other multilateral institutions. Unless Washington is convinced that Mr Mnangagwa represents a decisive break with the past, it is unlikely to support any move to restructure debt or remove sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Before he left the US for Zimbabwe, Mr Flake had said: “I urge the Zimbabwean government to foster peaceful, democratic reform.”

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