More violence possible, analysts warn

Pro-democracy activists have warned that protests in Zimbabwe might become even more violent after the bombing of a passenger train, a supermarket and a police station over the course of Friday and Saturday last week.

The police announced that they were now authorised to use live ammunition in response to violence. Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, the national police spokesman, told the official daily, The Herald, that the police had increased patrols and had been "given the green light to open fire in cases involving violence".

According to Bvudzijena, "We are now allowed to use firearms in cases of this nature."

He said a supermarket in the capital, Harare, was bombed on 24 March, and suspected opposition supporters threw teargas canisters and a petrol bomb at a train carrying about 750 passengers bound for Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, at a stopover point a few kilometres outside Harare, on 23 March, injuring five people.

The injured were taken to Harare Central Hospital where a pregnant woman was reported to have sustained injuries and suffered a miscarriage due to shock.

In the eastern city of Mutare, about 300km from Harare, unknown assailants razed a police station with a petrol bomb, but no injuries were reported.

"There have not been any arrests so far but we know these are MDC [opposition party Movement for Democratic Change] people who have embarked on a violent campaign against the government. Last week they also tried to petrol-bomb the same passenger train in Bulawayo but they failed; we are following leads and arrests will soon follow," claimed Bvudzijena.

A police detective in the capital told IRIN that an urgent police notice was doing the rounds, notifying officers countrywide that they had permission to open fire. "There is a growing worry that if the police do not adopt a hard stance against the growing number of violent activities, the situation might get out of hand," said the detective, who refused to be named.

The MDC has distanced itself from the bombings. "We don't know anything about that. Anyone could have done it, including the police themselves, or the CIO [Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation), so that it could be blamed on us," alleged MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

"More violence is certainly coming, not because people love violence but because they are frustrated," commented John Makumbe, a political analyst. "All they need is change, and the general feeling is that Zimbabweans have nothing more to lose. They have lost everything, hence their determination, as evidenced by recent street protests, to take the government head-on."

Zimbabwe has been simmering for the past two months, as ordinary people battle with shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, as well as an annual inflation rate of more than 1,700 percent.

But the situation has taken a violent turn since the police imposed a ban on political rallies last month. After an opposition supporter was shot dead by the police and opposition leaders allegedly beaten while in custody, strikes and protests have given way to bombings of police stations across the country.

Lovemore Madhuku, a political scientist and chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an umbrella organisation for civil groupings, said despite the heavy-handedness of state agents in dealing with protests, it was clear that Zimbabweans were more determined now than ever before to shape their future.

"This is a dangerous situation that could degenerate into a full-blown civil strife ... As the old adage goes, a hungry man is an angry man; people are hungry and yearning for change," said Madhuku. "What makes tension even higher is the fact that government has further tightened its grip on political space; the banning of rallies has frustrated many people, hence the violent clashes with the police."

Political parties have reacted strongly to the police announcement on the use of live ammunition. "It is unheard of in any democratic society to use live ammunition against your critics ... While the threat by the police is meant to instil fear in the opposition's leadership and membership, we are not going to stop organising protests to make sure that we deliver a democratic Zimbabwe to the people," the MDC's Chamisa told IRIN.

Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of one of the MDC factions, alleged: "Disturbing as the statement by the police might be, there is nothing new in their threat, as the government has always been using live ammunition against unarmed, innocent civilians, who are merely seeking to express themselves."

The South African Development Community (SADC) will be holding a summit on Zimbabwe in Tanzania on Thursday and Friday. The meeting will be attended by the SADC's security 'troika', Angola, Tanzania and Namibia, as well as current SADC chair Lesotho, outgoing chair Botswana, and incoming chair Zambia.

Zambia's foreign minister, Mundia Sikatana, told IRIN that the meeting would discuss all aspects of recent events in Zimbabwe. "We are very concerned with the situation [there]. Because we are close neighbours, we get affected: when they sneeze, you also sneeze."

Zambia is the only country in the region to have called for a "new approach" to resolving Zimbabwe's crises.

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