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Zimbabwe: Commonwealth Observers bemoans use of army against protesters.

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Zimbabwe’s army has been condemned by Commonwealth Observers for its deadly use of force to break up protesters in the capital, Harare.

At least three people were killed when troops opened fire during clashes on the streets following the early results of the country’s first election since Robert Mugabe was deposed in a coup in November 2017.



 The army also beat up opposition demonstrators, many of whom were throwing rocks and setting fires to protest alleged fraud in the election on Monday.

Opposition supporters claimed the country’s presidential election had been rigged by the ruling party.

Reporting from the streets of Harare, The Independent‘s Kim Sengupta described “running battles” where “troops opened fire on rioting opposition supporters, tanks took to the streets and military helicopters flew overhead”.

He wrote: “Initial exchanges saw bottles and rocks flung from the crowd and police responding with tear gas, baton rounds and water cannons. The confrontation suddenly escalated with the appearance machine-gun mounted armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Troops streamed out of the vehicles into the crowd to, at first, use their rifle butts to hit people, and then open fire.

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“Some military officers claimed later that they had shot back in self-defence after coming under fire. There were sounds of some single shots, but most of it appeared to be staccato controlled bursts of semi-automatic rounds from assault rifles. Road blocks began to be put up shortly after the gunfire, tanks and APCs positioned themselves in Harare city centre.”

Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, said he had been talking to the leader of the opposition MDC Alliance, Nelson Chamisa, to try to defuse the tension.

The violence erupted after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the ruling Zanu-PF party won a majority in parliament.

There was no response from Mr Chamisa, who claimed several times on Twitter to have “won the popular vote” but gave no numbers or concrete evidence of fraud by Zanu-PF.

Observers from the Commonwealth, a group of mainly former British colonies Mr Mangagwa had been hoping to rejoin, did not hold back in criticising the military crackdown.

“We categorically denounce the excessive use of force against unarmed civilians,” Ghana’s former president, John Mahama, said in a statement on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Britain also said it was deeply concerned by the situation, while the United Nations had earlier called for restraint from all sides in the aftermath of the election.

The Commonwealth also urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to expedite the announcement of the results of the presidential vote. On Wednesday, the observers had reported a number of problems with the poll, including voter intimidation.

 However, China, an important source of funding under Mr Mugabe and Mr Mnangagwa, said it believed the election had generally proceeded in an orderly fashion, though a foreign ministry spokesman “noted” reports of violence on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, the streets of Harare were calm as soldiers on foot and in trucks moved around, instructing vendors and other people to leave the city centre by noon.

Shops were shut and the streets were strewn with rocks and embers from the fires set by demonstrators.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Hong Kong Activities face crucial weekend test after airport setback

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Source: AFP- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement faces a major test this weekend as it tries to muster another huge crowd following criticism over a recent violent airport protest and as concerns mount over Beijing’s next move.

Ten weeks of protests have plunged the international finance hub into crisis with the communist mainland taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labelling the more violent protester actions “terrorist-like”.

Chinese state media have put out images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, while the United States has warned Beijing against sending in troops, a move many analysts say would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

The nationalistic Global Times newspaper said there would not be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which hundreds — or even thousands — are believed to have been killed, if Beijing moves to quash the protests.

“The incident in Hong Kong won’t be a repeat of the June 4th political incident in 1989,” it said, insisting the country now had more sophisticated approaches.

It was a rare reference to the bloody events, which are taboo in China.

Hong Kong’s protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Millions of people have hit the streets while clashes have broken out between police and small groups of hardcore protesters for 10 consecutive weekends.

For most of that time, US President Donald Trump has taken a hands-off approach to the unrest but began speaking up this week, suggesting any potential trade deal with Beijing could be upended by a violent response from the mainland.

Speaking on Thursday, Trump urged his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to meet protesters and solve the crisis “humanely”.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Italy’s League faces threat over new Government crisis

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Source: Rueters, Italy’s ruling League party could end up in opposition and risks looking stupid over its bid to bring down the coalition and trigger an early election, a senior League official said.

Renewed political turmoil in the euro zone’s third largest economy threatens to derail preparations for the 2020 budget in the autumn, as Italy attempts to rein in its huge public debt, the highest in the 19-nation bloc after Greece.

The League’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini said last week its alliance with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement was no longer workable and tabled a motion of no-confidence in the government.

The 46-year-old tough-talking Salvini’s gambit appeared to be an effort to capitalize on his popularity and bring on an election that could see him crowned as prime minister.

However, 5-Star and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) have stalled any debate of the motion and many of their politicians are now openly discussing forming a coalition among themselves to sideline Salvini.

League Cabinet Undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti, Salvini’s closest aide, acknowledged in an interview in La Repubblica daily on Thursday that the party could now end up in opposition, but said it would do so “with our heads high.”

“We could have held on to our government posts and now we risk looking stupid, but we posed a political issue,” Giorgetti said, referring to the policy gridlock which had bogged down the government amid constant bickering between the two parties.

With the prospect of a 5-Star/PD government looking increasingly plausible, the League’s Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio said on Wednesday he did not rule out trying to patch things up with 5-Star.

“I would never close the door completely,” he said in a radio interview.

Salvini said in Genoa on Wednesday the League “will do whatever we can to prevent a trickster’s deal between 5-Star and the PD.”

Francesco Galietti, founder of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar, said in a note that the possibility of the government continuing with a cabinet reshuffle was “more than just plausible.”

However, many 5-Star politicians now seem more tempted by a deal with the PD. Lower house deputy Giuseppe Brescia told La Repubblica on Thursday it would be “absurd” to try to resurrect the coalition after the League had unilaterally tried to sink it.

The 5-Star Movement has been hurt by its tie-up with the League, halving its voter support since the two parties joined forces in June last year, according to opinion polls. The League has overtaken it to become Italy’s most popular party.

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