Police have fired tear gas at a crowd of opposition supporters amid an outbreak of violence in Harare. President Robert Mugabe denounced critics saying the "Arab Spring is not going to happen" in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean police on Friday used tear gas and water cannon to break up a protest against President Robert Mugabe that was authorized by court order, triggering violent clashes throughout the capital, Harare.
Opposition supporters who wanted to march to the offices of the electoral commission to deliver a petition calling for electoral reforms ahead of 2018 elections were told to leave by police. When some refused to comply, the officers violently broke up the crowd, which included opposition head Morgan Tsvangirai and former Vice President Joice Mujuru. Tsvangirai and Mujuru fled the rally in cars.
The dispersed protesters then fought running battles with police in the streets of Harare, burning tires, throwing rocks and burning a popular market to the ground. Several people were reported injured in what was some of the worst unrest in the country since food riots in 1998.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba accused protesters of looting shops, saying a number of arrests had been made.
Mugabe defiant amidst growing unrest
Zimbabwe has seen months of protests against alleged human rights abuses, a weakening economy and high unemployment under the 92-year-old Mugabe, who has held power since 1980 when the south African country won its independence from Britain.
But Mugabe appeared on state television to denounce his critics.
"They are burning tires in the streets in order to get into power," Mugabe said in an address. "They are thinking that what happened in the Arab Spring is going to happen in this country, but we tell them that is not going to happen here."
Government critics want international observers, including the United Nations, to monitor the poll in 2018. They are also calling on Mugabe to dismiss corrupt ministers, scrap plans to introduce local bank notes and end cash shortages.
Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo on Thursday accused opposition leaders of being "foreign agents" who were trying to bring about international intervention in Zimbabwe's affairs.
tj/jil (Reuters, dpa)