Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – Soldiers patrolled city streets in Zimbabwe on Tuesday, as clashes between protesters and security forces resulted in the deaths of at least five people, including a police officer.
Dozens of people have been injured as a result of clashes across the country during the second of a three-day national strike.
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In the city of Bulawayo, at least one person was reportedly shot on Tuesday afternoon near a shop that youths had broken into. Earlier in the day, a police officer died from injuries sustained during Monday’s confrontations with demonstrators.
Authorities have called for order and issued a stern warning against attacks on police stations and civilian property. Overall, at least 200 people have been arrested in connection with the ongoing violence, which has seen shops destroyed and burned overnight.
Army trucks and anti-riot vehicles continuously patrolled the low-income areas of Bulawayo, firing tear gas and warning shots in a bid to stop the protesters.
Amid the chaos, looting has also erupted. Looters, who refused to go on record, told Al Jazeera they were taking the opportunity to stock up their homes with food and other necessities, rather than pay the exorbitant prices that had resulted from the fuel hikes.
Addmore Moyo, a 54-year-old civil servant, expressed strong disapproval of the rampant looting and feared a violent crackdown.
“It’s a very disgusting situation. How can people steal from their own community? They have looted all the shops in Emakhandeni so how do the shop owners recover from this? Tomorrow we will be going to the same shops looking for bread, this is not right.
“Even worse now there will be a serious backlash from the government because of this. As people we are all suffering and we want the situation to change, but now they will come after the whole community, even the innocent ones,” he told Al Jazeera.
Demonstrations were spurred by Saturday’s announcement of a 150 percent fuel hike amid deteriorating economic conditions.
In the industrial city’s centre, businesses remain shut and police on horseback are on standby. But in the western suburbs of Emakhandeni, Entumbane, Luveve and elsewhere, tensions continue to build.
Food shortage and looting
A peaceful protest against the economic crisis and fuel price hike has changed character as people, particularly young boys, break into supermarkets, bars and hardware stores to grab food and other items.
Many Zimbabweans across the country have stayed at home and schools have closed as part of the strike, which was called for by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and some leading civil activists.
As a result of the ongoing tensions, internet access has been restricted following a government warning against the use of social media to plan demonstrations.
According to Owen Ncube, the minister of state for national security, the protests have been coordinated through social media and he claims the leading opposition MDC Alliance is to blame for inciting people to come out for violent demonstrations.
However, the opposition rejects the accusation.
Charlton Hwende, an MDC politician, claimed that a petrol bomb had been set aflame at the party headquarters.
In July, President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly won a disputed election against MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
Mnangagwa’s administration is battling to contain Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and has faced strikes by medical staff and threats of labour action by civil servants in recent weeks.
Low on cash reserves, the southern African nation is battling severe fuel shortages.
Mnangagwa, who is on an official visit to Russia, has assured citizens his administration’s austerity measures will bear fruit.
He is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, as part of a five-country tour of eastern Europe, where he is seeking to expand Zimbabwe’s business links.