Zimbabwe riot police break up opposition press conference after president wins election

Officers moved in after MDC candidate Nelson Chamisa claimed results were ‘fake’ and threatened to take government to court

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 8:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:48pm

Zimbabwean riot police entered a Harare hotel on Friday to break up a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who rejected election results announced in the early hours of the morning.

The police, carrying shields and tear gas canisters, prevented the event from starting at the Bronte Hotel in the capital, witnesses said.

Tense exchanges followed as police ejected journalists from the hotel, but Chamisa’s spokesman said shortly after that the press conference would go ahead.

Reacting to the incident, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said scenes of riot police dispersing journalists “have no place in our society”.

Earlier, Chamisa rejected what he said were “fake” results of landmark elections in which Mnangagwa was declared victor.

The former ally of Robert Mugabe won 50.8 per cent of the vote in Monday’s historic first polls since the autocrat’s ousting last year, according to the Zimbabwe Election Commission – just enough to avoid a run-off against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 per cent.

Chamisa lashed what he called “unverified fake results”.

“The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mnangagwa, who was chosen as Mugabe’s successor in the ruling ZANU-PF party in November after the brief military intervention that deposed him, hailed the victory as a “new beginning” for Zimbabwe.

“Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams,” he tweeted.

Opposition allegations of foul play had already sparked a deadly crackdown on protesters in the capital Harare on Wednesday when troops opened fire, killing six.

Soldiers and police had cleared the city centre on Thursday as the government vowed not to tolerate any more protests. But by Friday the streets and markets were crowded as usual.

An army truck and two water cannon were parked outside MDC headquarters, and in the suburb of Mbare jubilant ZANU-PF supporters waved party banners as music blared from a car.

“This is a new Zimbabwe, we are happy,” said Tendai Mugadzi, a 32-year-old IT specialist.

He was untroubled that Mnangagwa had won by a wafer-thin margin.

“It just shows that this was a free and fair election,” he said.

“Mnangagwa’s task was not just to win the election, but to convince the international community of a new Zimbabwe by winning it cleanly and fairly,” said Charles Laurie of analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

“The killing of six protesters and questions over his government’s conduct at the polls, means Mnangagwa drags virtually all of Mugabe’s baggage into his presidency,” he added.

He called the swift crackdown on protests “a stark demonstration of how Mnangagwa intends to rule”.

Since independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe has known only two presidents – Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for 37 years, and his one-time right-hand man Mnangagwa.

The new president had promised a free and fair vote that would turn the page on years of brutal repression, end Zimbabwe’s international isolation and attract foreign investment to revive the shattered economy.

But Chamisa has repeatedly alleged that the vote was rigged, charging that the electoral commission – synonymous with fraud under Mugabe – had once more helped ZANU-PF to steal an election.

An MDC spokesman said early on Friday that the party was planning to take the outcome to the courts, though a legal challenge appears to offer little hope of overturning the outcome.

The electoral commission has rejected allegations of bias and rigging, and international observers praised the largely peaceful conduct of the vote itself.

But European Union monitors said they found an “un-level playing field” that stacked various factors in favour of ZANU-PF, including heavy coverage by state media.

Additional reporting by Associated Press