Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN)- Tensions between Zimbabwe’s main opposition party and President Emmerson Mnangagwa‘s government escalated into violence in the country’s capital on Friday after a court ruled against a planned opposition protest.
Police clashed with opposition party members who had gathered at the Africa Unity Square in Harare’s central business district in defiance of the ban on Friday morning, firing tear gas and charging others with batons. A crowd of opposition members were rounded up and arrested.
The country’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had called for a nationwide demonstration against Mnangagwa’s government, which it blames for the country’s crippling economic crisis.
Mnangagwa’s administration has struggled to stabilize a moribund economy and curb hyperinflation while a severe drought has crippled productivity.
Demonstrator Spiwe Moyo, 47, told CNN police used batons to beat her at the square. “I’m in pain. I don’t even know why I was beaten. I would continue to fight, especially for us women. I can’t get anywhere. I don’t have money for my children’s school fees and I don’t know how I am going to survive,” Moyo said.
Zimbabwe police spokesman Paul Nyathi told CNN they were investigating allegations that protesters were beaten and said that some demonstrators had also assaulted the police.
“We have found out that there were youths making confrontational moves towards the police. This led to a stampede where one woman was badly injured. She was whisked away for medical attention,” Nyathi said.
As early as 6 a.m. on Friday morning,, anti-riot police officers had cordoned off the court where the ruling was to take place, as police patrolled the streets and searched those nearby. Commuters were also subjected to security checks at roadblocks.
MDC spokesman Daniel Molokele insisted that the protest had not been postponed: “We did not call this protest off, the police blocked our supporters from being able to come to town.” He added that continued protests are planned as a “roadmap” to change the situation in Zimbabwe.
Molokele denied that the opposition was in direct talks with Mnangagwa and said that the MDC wants an independent mediator to chart a way forward.