Tens of thousands of supporters of Zimbabwe’s ruling party are marching in the capital, Harare, in response to a series of recent protests against the government of 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
The supporters sang and chanted slogans Wednesday in support of Mugabe, who has been in power for 36 years.
Discontent has been growing over Zimbabwe’s deteriorating economy and alleged corruption and human rights abuses.
A nationwide job boycott called via social media by a church pastor, Evan Mawarire, earlier this month received a huge response not seen in close to a decade.
Mugabe on Tuesday criticised Mawarire for the first time publicly by name, urging him and his supporters to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.
Mawarire last week was briefly arrested and charged with subverting a constitutionally elected government before being freed by a court in the capital, Harare. Hundreds of cheering supporters greeted his release.
His calls on social media for a boycott earlier this month drew a strong response from people frustrated by Zimbabwe’s deepening economic problems.
Mugabe accused the 39-year-old of inciting violence, and he questioned Mawarire’s religious credentials.
‘So beware these men of cloth, not all of them are true preachers of the Bible. I don’t know whether they are serving God. They spell God in reverse,’ the president said.
Mugabe was speaking at the burial of the former British colony’s first black chief secretary to the Cabinet and president.
The 92-year-old president has accused Western countries of sponsoring the recent anti-government protests. He urged Mawarire and his followers to relocate to one of them.
‘The Mawarires and those who believe in that way of living in our country, well, they are not part of us in thinking. They are not part of us as we try to live together,’ Mugabe said, to applause from supporters. ‘If they don’t like to live with us, let them go to those who are sponsoring them, to the countries of those who are sponsoring them, fine.’
Mawarire left the country last week but has denied reports he fled to seek asylum elsewhere.