Mugabe refuses to step down as protests pile up pressure

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe will not resign as demanded by protesters who brought the country to a standstill Wednesday, the ruling party has said.

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The country was brought to a standstill in one of the biggest protests to rock Zimbabwe in the last decade after a social media movement known as #ThisFlag and civil society groups called for a job boycott to force President Mugabe to listen to their demands.

They said they were fed up with the 92 year-old ruler’s failed policies, corruption and a worsening economic crisis.

However, the ruling Zanu PF accused Western embassies of coordinating the protests and vowed that State security agencies would clampdown on dissent.

“Zanu PF is focused on what it wants to do and cannot be shaken by these activities,” Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo told journalists in Harare.

“We are the ruling party and we will not accept anything short of law and order. In Harare, these demonstrations have been led by leaders of vendors’ associations, some other shadowy groups calling themselves various names. And we know that they are being sponsored by Western embassies,” he added.

Mr Chombo claimed Western countries wanted to topple President Mugabe’s government. “The regime change agenda that is being pursued by the West will come to naught,” he said.

The organisers of Wednesday’s stay-away dubbed #ShutDownZimbabwe 2016 said they would stage another protest next week if the government does not address their demands.

President Mugabe, in power since 1980, has in the past few months been facing growing protests against his rule as the economic crisis that has crippled the country continues to intensify.

In April, former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, organised one of the biggest marches in the last decade in the capital Harare against the veteran ruler, demanding that he steps down.

Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party has since held two more marches against President Mugabe in the cities of Bulawayo and Mutare.

Civil society groups have also been staging daily protests against the government demanding an end to the economic crisis and human rights violations.

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Zanu PF has already endorsed President Mugabe to stand for yet another term in the 2018 elections.

Under Mugabe’s authoritarian rule, protests and strikes have been rare in Zimbabwe despite about 90 per cent of the population being out of formal employment.

The last similar protests took place in 1998 when riots erupted over the price of bread.

“This is a sign of economic collapse which has left people with nothing more to sacrifice and nothing to lose,” Mr Dumisani Nkomo, spokesman for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition campaign group said.

“We are heading towards a tipping point as a country, where citizens will express their pain by any means.”

There were few people on the streets of the usually bustling capital Harare after civil society organisations called the strike to pressure Mugabe to tackle economic woes.

“I can’t go to work when the rest of the country is not going to work,” said Sybert Marumo, who works for an electrical shop.

“Life is tough and we need to show the government that we have been stretched to the limit.” Children were seen streaming home from school after teachers failed to turn up.

In some suburbs of Harare, protesters burned tyres and blocked streets to prevent cars from heading into the city centre.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said police had arrested at least 20 people across the country.

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