File photo: Philimon Bulawayo

HARARE - Police rounded up many members of the opposition MDC Alliance from the party’s city centre headquarters late Thursday and say they must answer questions in connection with the violence around central Harare on Wednesday. 

The group, some say about 30, were arrested when police raided the MDC officers in Nelson Mandela Avenue which has been under police guard since mid day on Wednesday. 

Police say that about 18 of those arrested had been living in the party’s headquarters for some time and they were sought to answer questions about the protests. 

The others arrested are, according to the police, part of an MDC group, known as The Vanguard and include two well-known former Zanu-PF party seniors.

This group, police sources say may be connected to previous violence against Thoko Khupe, who was vice president to late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. She was attacked at Tsvangirai’s burial in February. 

Some MDC insiders believe the police were looking for material collected by the MDC to check voting statistics ahead of the announcement of the presidential poll. But these sources also say the materials they were using were not in the party’s offices. 

The MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa has claimed that he has known he won the presidential poll against President Emmerson Mnangagwa since voting ended on Monday. 

“In all the constituencies where his MPs were winning, Mr Mnangagwa was losing. In all the constituencies where my MP’s were not performing well, I won,” he said. We won this election. Mr Mnangagwa knows it. Zanu-PF knows it. We have the proof.”

He has since conceded he is no longer contesting the results of the parliamentary vote, which gave Zanu-PF a huge two thirds majority in parliament which will allow the party to change the constitution. 

The MDC Alliance lost several key seats in this poll from the split vote which went to another faction of the MDC and “independent” candidates who are, in essence, MDC supporters who fell out with Chamisa after he came to power after the death of Tsvangirai. 

Senior Zanu-PF sources continue to indicate that Mnangagwa had an easy victory over Chamisa and that he has scored well past the 50 plus one percent majority he needs to avoid a second round. 

The police said in a television broadcast after the violence in the city that they called in soldiers to assist them because they could not cope with the scope of the MDC demonstrations in the city and the violence inflicted on vendors, passers by and others who were not involved in the protest. 

But several well placed sources say the army was sent into the demonstration because the country’s leaders, including Mnangagwa, did not trust all the police since the soft coup d’etat last November. 

The demonstrators were protesting that Chamisa’s victory had not been announced and they claimed that the Zimbabwe Election Commission had “stolen” the results. 

Soldiers were seen beating opposition supporters and firing automatic weapons at fleeing civilians after they were deployed to quell violent opposition protests against alleged vote rigging on Wednesday afternoon. 

The violence and the decision to send in the army has attracted widespread criticism from the international community. 

The UK said the Zimbabwean government to remove its troops from the streets of Harare after between three and six were killed in post-election violence between security forces and opposition supporters. 

Catriona Laing, the British ambassador, condemned the “excessive use of force”  and called for the immediate withdrawal of troops during a meeting with Zimbabwean ministers on Thursday.

"“The military should be removed from the streets of Harare and the security forces hold act with utmost restraint,” she said in a statement. “All political leaders have a  responsibility to ensure they do not raise tensions or issue statements that make violence more likely.”

Several international observer groups said the use of the army in demonstration by civilians was “indefensible.”

Mnangagwa called for an independent investigation into the violence and said he had been “in communication with Chamisa to discuss how to immediately defuse the situation.”

“We believe in transparency and accountability, and those responsible should be identified and brought to justice,” he wrote on his Twitter site. 

Members of the army who shot and killed protestors on Harare’s streets on Wednesday should be investigated and punished if they are found guilty, according to a senior veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation war. 

Douglas Mahiya,  who was one of the first veteran to challenge former president Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule said the loss of life during the opposition MDC protests was “tragic.”

He told a press conference in Harare on Thursday that he was “shocked” at the sometimes violent MDC protests within Harare on Wednesday. 

“These elections were so peaceful and we have never had such peaceful elections since independence…so the Zimbabwe Republic Police tried to halt the (protesters') violence but were overpowered, and so the army came in. 

While some police sources maintain that three people were shot dead, one by a policeman allegedly injured by some MDC protesters, other sources believe another three injured people have since died in hospital. 

The death toll has since been confirmed by p olice spokesperson Charity Charamba during a a press conference on Thursday.

About 14 were injured. One woman, being treated in a private hospital told medical staff she had been injected with “something” by those who “kidnapped” her, but she did not know what was in the syringe. 

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Independent Foreign Service