Freed Zimbabwe protest leader calls for further strikes
The Zimbabwean pastor who has emerged as leader of a new protest movement against President Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian government called on Thursday for further strikes and shutdowns.
Evan Mawarire, who started the popular ThisFlag internet protest campaign in April, organised a one-day nationwide strike last week that closed offices, shops, schools and some government departments.
“Tell everyone that you know... tell them that the pastor said we carry on with our ‘stay-away’ and shutdown,” Mawarire said in a Facebook video, the day after a court threw out a case against him of attempting to overthrow the government.
“There is a hope inside you that this country needs, and if you don’t get involved, you are robbing us of that hope,” he said, wearing the national flag around his neck.
“We are not just hating the government for nothing. We actually want you to know the reality on the ground.” A recent series of demonstrations, the largest in years, have been driven by an economic crisis in Zimbabwe that has left banks short of cash and the government struggling to pay its workers.
Mugabe, 92 and increasingly frail, has previously used his ruthless security forces to crack down on any public show of dissent during his 36 years in power.
The response to Mawarire’s calls for further nationwide strikes on Wednesday and Thursday appeared to be muted, with shops, schools and offices open across the country. Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo warned that anyone who took part in the planned strike would face “the full wrath of the law“, and many civil servants were paid their delayed June salaries in recent days.
Mawarire was arrested on Tuesday but released the following day after a magistrate dismissed the case against him.
His surprise release late Wednesday was greeted as a major victory by anti-government protesters, hundreds of whom had waited, singing and praying, outside the court all day as riot police looked on.
Amnesty has said about 300 people have been arrested for participating in protests around the country since last week.
The surge in protests has revealed long-simmering frustration in a country where 90% of the population is not in formal employment.
Last week, security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse violent protests outside Harare that erupted over police officers allegedly using road blocks to extort cash from motorists.
Television footage showed police beating protesters with sticks.
Other protests have erupted at the border with South Africa over a ban on imports such as canned vegetables, powdered milk and cooking oil.
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