Zimbabwean police fire tear gas, water cannon to disperse protest

August 17, 2016 5:11 AM EDT

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean police fired tear gas and water cannon on Wednesday to disperse about 100 people protesting against central bank plans to re-introduce local banknotes, a Reuters witness said.

The protesters set out to march through the streets of the capital Harare toward the central bank but were stopped by riot police, who broke up the demonstration. One man sustained deep cuts on the head from batons.

Zimbabweans fear the central bank's plan to introduce banknotes, or "bond notes", in October to ease the dollar shortage could open the door to rampant money printing, as happened in 2008 when inflation hit 500 billion percent, wiping out people's savings and pensions.

President Robert Mugabe in June defended the introduction of local banknotes, calling them "surrogate currency" that would discourage criminals from coming to Zimbabwe to "fish" for dollars.

Protesters sang songs denouncing Mugabe, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa and central bank governor John Mangudya, who have backed the measure, and likened the planned "bond notes" to toilet paper.

Protesters tried to give police flowers as a sign of peace, but the officers stood aloof.

"We know what happens when the central bank prints money. Our message to Mugabe, Chinamasa and Mangudya is that we don't want those bond notes," said Promise Mkwananzi, leader of the militant social media movement #Tajamuka, slang in the Shona language for defiance.

Zimbabwe has in the last few months witnessed almost weekly protests, some which have ended in clashes with police, as citizens organize protests against economic hardship.

Movements such as #ThisFlag, led by activist pastor Evan Mawarire, and #Tajamuka have used Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to rally Zimbabweans against the leadership of the 92-year-old Mugabe, whose government is blamed for the economic woes.

There was no immediate comment from the central bank and Finance Ministry. A police spokeswoman said she had no details on the protest.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Janet Lawrence)

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