Zimbabweans ignore strike call, organizers blame state intimidation

August 31, 2016 10:29 AM EDT

A woman crosses the street in front of minibus taxis in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 31, 2016. Opposition activists have called for a stay-away strike on Wednesday following last week's protests. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo


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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabweans on Wednesday largely ignored a strike called by political activists to protest against the government's handling of growing discontent and economic woes, with organizers accusing state security of intimidating people and businesses.

Public anger is rising in the southern African nation where citizens have in the last two months used social media to organize demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe, including the largest strike since 2007 on July 6.

On Wednesday, businesses, including banks, informal markets and shops were open, ignoring the strike call by social media groups #ThisFlag led by pastor Evan Mawarire and #Tajamuka, whose leader is in custody on public violence charges.

The strike action was called to protest government's planned introduction of local bank notes in October, acute cash shortages, delays in payment of public sector salaries and a police crackdown that has seen law enforcement agents using teargas, water cannon and batons to break-up protests.

Hardlife Mudzingwa, acting spokesman at #Tajamuka, slang in the Shona language for defiance, accused state security agents of going around the central business district and townships on Tuesday threatening to withdraw licenses for businesses if they heeded the strike.

Mudzingwa said three people had been arrested for carrying anti-Mugabe placards in a Harare township.

"Given the little resources that we have, police brutality and threats by state security agents to businesses and around the townships, the shutdown was a success," said Mudzingwa.

He said #Tajamuka was now preparing for Friday's march, being planned by opposition parties to press Mugabe and the national election agency to create a level playing field ahead of the 2018 vote, which Mugabe plans to contest aged 94.

Human rights lawyers said 6 people had been arrested in the second largest city Bulawayo when they tried to protest.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba was not available to comment, while Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo said he had no comment on Mudzingwa's allegations.

There were fewer uniformed police on Harare's streets compared to previous demonstrations, and residents said they could not take part in the protest as they had bills to pay.

"Schools are opening next week and I am trying to raise money for fees, how will I do that if I stay at home?" said Johanne Garikai, a 32-year-old shoe vendor in central Harare.

"Life is difficult in this country and if I miss a day here I have nowhere else to get income," added Martha Chimanga, who runs a stall at a downtown informal market selling clothes imported from China.

(Editing by James Macharia and Raissa Kasolowsky)



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