Thursday, December 4, 2008



December 3 2008

The Zimbabwean government has accused its opponents of inciting soldiers to revolt in what critics say is confirmation of suspicions the week-long protests by the usually loyal security forces were a well calculated ruse to allow President Robert Mugabe to declare a state of emergency.

The warnings came as riot police in the capital Harare violently broke up marches by nurses, doctors and ordinary workers protesting against the deepening cash shortages and the economic crisis.

Speaking for the first time after days of looting and street battles between disgruntled soldiers and anti-riot police in central Harare, the Defence minister, Mr Sydney Sekeramayi, told state media the government was worried the incidents were coinciding with intensifying demonstrations against Mr Mugabe’s regime.

Zimbabwe’s main labour body called for nationwide protests against cash withdrawal limits imposed by the central bank.

Today morning, police maintained a heavy presence on roads leading to Harare’s central business district and tried to prevent protesters from raiding banks as part of the protests.

“The coincidence of the above stated incidents (riots by soldiers) and the call for nationwide demonstrations raises a lot of questions,” Mr Sekeramayi said. “While it is the right of citizens to demonstrate, it must be done within the context and confines of the laws of this country.”

He said investigations were already under way to identify those behind the riots.

This raised suspicions that President Mugabe, who was attending the just-ended United Nations Conference on Financing Development in Doha when the soldiers began storming the streets and attacking illegal foreign currency dealers, was targeting his opponents.

More disturbing were reports that the soldiers were seen showing the symbol of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), an open palm, as they ran amok on the streets, critics said.

“Let me also emphasise that those who may try to incite some members of the uniformed forces to indulge in illegal activities will equally be found culpable,” Mr Sekeramayi said.

Already several MDC officials, including Mr Tendai Biti, the party’s secretary general have appeared in court facing allegations of trying to influence security forces to revolt against the government.

The charges arose after Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence to the MDC during the March elections.

Mr Denford Magora, a social commentator believes Mr Mugabe’s opponents were playing into a trap by organising protests they hope will be supported by disgruntled soldiers.

Former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa who was once jailed by Mr Mugabe’s government for alleged treason also expressed similar fears saying Zanu PF was desperate to extricate itself from a number of crises threatening to sweep it away.

He said the protests by the soldiers bore a resemblance to a series of mysterious bombings that have rocked police stations in Harare. Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri who is a close ally of Mr Mugabe is on record saying the bombings were an inside job.

Zimbabwe remains tense as the ruling party and the two formations of the MDC continue to haggle over the formation of a unity government proposed by a September 15 power sharing agreement.