Police officers are seen in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Aug. 16, 2019. Shops, banks and retail outlets in Zimbabwe's capital Harare were closed on Friday after the High Court banned a planned demonstration by the opposition MDC Alliance. Heavily armed police officers patrolled the central business district while some were stationed at strategic areas in the city center, including at Africa Unity Square where protesters were due to congregate. (Photo by Shaun Jusa/Xinhua)
by Zhang Yuliang, Gretinah Machingura
HARARE, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Shops, banks and retail outlets in Zimbabwe's capital Harare were closed on Friday after the High Court banned a planned demonstration by the opposition MDC Alliance.
By 12 noon local time, all the shops in the central business (CBD) district including banks and major retail outlets had closed.
At mid-morning, a handful of opposition supporters tried to defy the ban and march through the streets of Harare but police moved in and fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Heavily armed police officers patrolled the CBD while some were stationed at strategic areas in the city center, including at Africa Unity Square where protesters were due to congregate.
"This effectively means that the junta has now forcibly declared a total shutdown of Harare today (Friday). So for now, the people must remain calm, avoid any form of violence and stay safely at home," MDC National Spokesperson Daniel Molokele said in a statement.
Earlier, the opposition party had called off the strike after the High Court dismissed its urgent chamber application to nullify the police ban of its intended demonstration.
Heavily armed police have cordoned off all the major roads leading into the city centre. The regime has also deployed a huge police contingent at both the Africa Unity Square and the MDC headquarters.
Daniel said the party was going ahead with preparations for the already planned protests in the cities of Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo next week.
The opposition party has called the demonstrations against the deteriorating state of the economy and alleged government malpractices.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has reassured the nation that the painful economic reforms that his government is implementing are necessary to rightsize the economy and set it in on a sustainable growth path.
The MDC Alliance has also refused to take part in national dialogue that has been called by Mnangagwa to resolve the nation's challenges.
On Thursday, Mnangagwa implored the citizens to remain peaceful and shun violence.
He reiterated his pledge to all opposition leaders that he remained open to dialogue.
"The recent national holidays remind us that our strongest asset is our unity. I reiterate my calls to all opposition leaders that my door remains open and my arms remain outstretched. Riots and destructive violence must be rejected; peaceful constructive dialogue are the way forward," he said.
Protests that have been called by the opposition party in the past turned violent, with the last one held in January against a sharp increase in fuel prices, resulting in the destruction of property, looting of shops and death of more than 12 civilians after the army opened fire on the protesters to try and quell the demonstrations.
On Thursday, the government said it was concerned about reports of alleged abductions and torture of some people in Harare by unknown assailants, and said it suspected the involvement of a third force in the incidents.
This was after the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a rights group, said six Zimbabwean political activists were abducted from their homes at night and beaten by armed men this week, ahead of the planned demonstrations.
"We have noted with concern and distress reports of alleged abductions and torture of citizens by unknown assailants in Harare. Whilst the Zimbabwe Republic Police are still investigating these allegations and establishing their veracity, government would like to inform the public of the following: torture, arbitrary punishment and degrading treatment of citizens by anyone is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and ethos of the Second Republic," said Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information Nick Mangwana.
Mangwana said the allegations would be investigated as government always strives to uphold the rights of all citizens.