Zimbabwean police on Friday fired tear gas at opposition leaders and hundreds of demonstrators as a protest against President Robert Mugabe descended into one of the worst outbreaks of violence in two decades.
Opposition head Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice president Joice Mujuru fled the rally in their cars while protesters ran for cover as police firing tear gas and water cannons broke-up the core of the demonstration.
Clashes then spread through the streets of Harare as riot police fought running battles with protesters who hurled rocks at officers, set tyres ablaze and burned a popular market to the ground, in some of the worst unrest since food riots in 1998.
“Mugabe’s rule must end now, that old man has failed us,” said one protester before throwing a rock at a taxi.
Mugabe’s opponents have become emboldened by rising public anger and protests over an economic meltdown, cash shortages and high unemployment. Mugabe, 92, has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
More than a hundred police officers in riot gear, backed up by water cannons and armoured trucks, occupied the venue that opposition parties planned to use for their demonstration.
As opposition supporters arrived for the march, they were told by the police to leave. The officers then fired teargas and a water cannon when parts of the crowd refused to comply.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said she was still to get details on Friday’s protest.