Harare – Residents of the Zimbabwean town of Masvingo have been left dismayed by the deployment of anti-riot police ahead of a planned national protest on Friday, the Zimbabwe Mail reports.
The protest was set to staged by opposition parties demanding widespread electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 general elections.
Residents in the region expressed their dissatisfaction at the deployment of police, saying this was an attempt by President Robert Mugabe’s administration to silence dissenting voters.
The strong-handed tactics were also being seen as intimidation tactics to prevent scores of people from joining the national protest that was organised by the National Electoral Reform Agenda (NERA).
“This is a very clear case of paranoia on the part of the government, for they fear that the demonstrations by the opposition parties could spill to the small towns. This is not acceptable because it stifles the peace and freedoms of residents,” Masvingo Human Rights Trust co-ordinator Masimba Gonese said.
Police had so far reportedly refused to comment on their decision to deploy anti-riot officers, as thirteen opposition parties under the NERA umbrella continued their calls for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 general elections.
Police on Wednesday fired teargas, used water cannon and beat up opposition activists protesting against police brutality.
According to an eyewitness, 200 supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) clashed with police who tried to stop the march.
Zimbabwe has seen an increase in violent protests over the past weeks, with demonstrators calling on Mugabe to step down.
A major strike last month, spearheaded by an online “ThisFlag” movement led by pastor Evan Mawarire, shut down businesses, as protesters voiced anger over the country’s economic crisis.
Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has overseen an economic collapse that has caused food and cash shortages, with the country battling to pay public servants.