29 March 2002

Police tear-gas rioters in Bulawayo

Police used tear gas to break up a riot on Friday in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, after pro-government militias staged attacks in a populous township and met resistance from residents. The riot began around 8 am in Sizenda township, where residents had teamed up to stone the militia base at a community hall in retaliation for militia attacks during the night on homes in the neighborhood, witnesses said. "When they went there, there were two guys within the militia armed with AK-47 rifles, which they fired into the air," said one witness. "But they kept on stoning the hall, which is when the riot police came out and started firing tear gas." The militia had marched through Sizenda two weeks ago, demanding that the ruling Zanu PF pay them Z$18.000 dollars (about R3.700). Their raids during the night on Thursday were apparently in frustration at not receiving the money demanded and losing the food supplies that had been given to them during the period around Zimbabwe's hotly contested March 9-11 presidential election.

Residents and at least 200 riot police staged running battles for more than four hours. Residents blocked off the main roads in the township and stoned cars that refused to turn around and leave. Police fired tear gas at random in Sizenda and managed to break up the riot and dismantle the roadblocks by 12.30 pm, an AFP correspondent reported. After the riot died down, the militia remained huddled inside the community hall. "It looks like they are now scared even to go outside and see what is going on," one witness said. Police officials in Bulawayo referred questions to the national police headquarters in Harare, where officials were not reachable for comment. Pro-government militants have staged regular attacks around Zimbabwe for more than two years, but widespread retaliation has been rare.

The MDC has accused the militias of engaging in violent attacks of retribution against its supporters for opposing President Robert Mugabe in the hotly contested presidential election. The party said Friday that the militia had destroyed the homes of at least six of its polling agents in the central district of Gokwe during and after the election. "MDC polling agents are living in fear following threats on their lives by ZANU-PF militia and war veterans," the MDC said in a statement Friday. "Many of the polling agents are no longer sleeping at their homes at night," the statement said. "Members of the Zanu PF militia and war veterans have reportedly vowed to continue persecuting members of the MDC until the party accepts the presidential election results," it said. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai refused to recognise Mugabe's re-election, saying the poll was "massively rigged" and citing widespread pre-election violence targetting his supporters. (ZWNews / The Star, SA)

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