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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Rights group says Zimbabwean soldiers beating up opposition

Zimbabwean security forces and unidentified gunmen have beaten and harassed dozens of people in a crackdown on the political opposition following a disputed election, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, while a joint statement by the United States, European Union and others condemned the “eruption of violence.”

The Human Rights Watch allegation contradicts assertions by the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa that it has abandoned the state-sponsored violence and intimidation associated with the rule of former leader Robert Mugabe. It comes after soldiers last week opened fire on rioters, protesters and bystanders in the capital, Harare, an opposition stronghold. Six people were killed.

The joint statement by the heads of mission of EU states in Zimbabwe along with the U.S., Canada and Switzerland condemned the “violence, attacks, and acts of intimidation targeted at opposition leaders and supporters,” saying such violations have no place in a democratic society. The statement urged Zimbabwe’s government to ensure that the defense forces “act with restraint.”

Human Rights Watch said it had documented “numerous cases” of soldiers beating up people in some Harare bars and restaurants since the Aug. 1 shootings. The military accused the people of undermining Mnangagwa because most votes in the capital went to the opposition, the group said.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission early Friday said Mnangagwa, who was a longtime enforcer for Mugabe, and the ruling party won the country’s peaceful July 30 election. Mnangagwa has urged the opposition to join him in rebuilding the country’s shattered economy, but the main opposition party alleges that the election results were rigged.

The opposition has seven days from the declaration of the election results to challenge them in court. The government wants to hold Mnangagwa’s inauguration in a sports stadium on Sunday but a court challenge would delay that.

Mnangagwa said the street violence last week was regrettable.

“There is no place for violence in our society, and allegations of further incidents concern us all. Any claim supported by evidence will be examined and investigations are underway as we seek truth & justice,” the president tweeted.

The military and police in a joint statement said they condemn all forms of violence and warned that “some of these individuals might be criminals masquerading as soldiers.”

Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs minister and a retired army general, denied allegations that soldiers were beating people, reported The Herald state-run newspaper.

“All what we are realizing is that there is a lot of misinformation that is coming out from social media,” Moyo told ambassadors and others in Harare on Monday, according to the report.

He said the military is “a well-trained and very disciplined force” that at one point “took over the responsibility of policing,” a reference to the military takeover in November that led to the resignation of 94-year-old Mugabe after 37 years in power.

The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Zimbabwe’s president to ensure that security forces “show maximum restraint” and told opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to pursue electoral grievances through legal channels.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that in Monday’s phone calls Guterres added that any legal decision on the election results “would need to be independent.”

Also Tuesday, 27 opposition activists who were arrested for allegedly inciting violence in Harare last week were released on bail.

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