The US Embassy in Harare expressed concern over the reports of violence in parts of Zimbabwe, urging all parties to exercise restraint. Picture: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Pretoria - The United States Embassy in Harare on Thursday expressed concern over the reports of violence in parts of Zimbabwe, urging all parties to exercise restraint.

"We condemn any disproportionate use of force and call on Zimbabwe’s security forces to respond to civil unrest professionally and with respect for human life and constitutional rights. We are also alarmed by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating political activists and labour leaders," the United States mission said in a media statement.

"The United States strongly supports freedom of expression, freedom of association, and peaceful assembly. People have the constitutional right to protest and express their views peacefully.   

"We condemn acts of arson and looting and threats against citizens. We call on protesters to refrain from violence and threats of violence, which will only cause further economic hardship."

Regarding the reported blockage of internet in Zimbabwe, the United States mission called on the Harare to respect its constitutional and international legal obligations regarding the right to freedom of expression.

"We are concerned by the Zimbabwean government’s blocking of Internet services in the country January 15-16 and urge the restoration of access to social media sites and applications. We call on the Zimbabwean government to respect its constitutional and international legal obligations regarding the right to freedom of expression."

More than 600 protesters have been arrested in the country, as State security agents in Zimbabwe unleashed what has been described by analysts as "a violent crackdown" on citizens who participated in the protests that rocked have Zimbabwe since Monday.

Violent protests were sparked by government's astronomical fuel price hike that saw diesel going up from US$1,24 to $3,11, and petrol rising to $3,31 from US$1,34.

Pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of #ThisFlag, was among the hundreds who were locked up. The pastor who called for the shutdown was picked up from his Harare home by armed policemen.

Apart from Mawarire, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and social movements all called for a stayaway starting Monday and ending Wednesday.

MDC national organising secretary Amos Chibaya was also arrested. 

He was nabbed when he visited arrested party members at Gweru Central Police Station some 275 km south-west of the capital, Harare.

The protests started on Monday and since then state security agents have used heavy-handed means to crush dissent. They have been seen going door-to-door in residential areas across the country. 

People suspected of involvement in the protests have been interrogated and sjamboked in public.

Videos of uniformed policemen dragging people from their houses before beating them in full view of other residents have gone viral. 

Policemen have also been filmed forcing suspects to roll in sewage.

Reports indicate that as many as nine people have been killed since the protests started. Many others have suffered gunshot wounds, but the government move to shut down the internet and WhatsApp has made it difficult to verify the figures.

However, doctors say 68 people were treated for gunshot wounds, 17 of whom underwent emergency surgery.

The ruling Zanu-PF has accused their nemesis, the MDC Alliance, of “orchestrating terror”, but an investigating officer in a case where bus owned by the state was torched, revealed in court papers that eight Zanu PF activists had burnt it and destroyed property in a residential area.

State Security Minister Owen Ncube said: “The prevailing security situation in the country is a culmination of a well-orchestrated series of events by the MDC Alliance, working in cahoots with NGOs, civic society, youth organisations, pressure groups and individuals”.

African News Agency (ANA)