Zimbabwe president to return home after deadly turmoil

Police patrol in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 20, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Zimbabwe president to return home after deadly turmoil

  • A year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests has caused widespread concern

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s president announced on Sunday that he will return home and skip the World Economic Forum after a week of turmoil in which activists have said at least a dozen people have been killed in a government crackdown.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa had been under growing pressure to come home from a two-week overseas visit as accounts emerged of abuses by security forces, including dozens of people wounded by gunfire and others hunted down in their homes and severely beaten.
Zimbabwe has seen days of unrest since Mnangagwa made an announcement more than doubling fuel prices that made the struggling country’s gasoline the most expensive in the world.
Mnangagwa in his Twitter post didn’t mention the violence, saying only that he is returning “in light of the economic situation.”
The first priority, he said, “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again.”
At Davos, he planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans to the southern African nation, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from longtime, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the international community.
A year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests has caused widespread concern.
Growing frustration over rising inflation, a severe currency crisis and fuel lines that stretch for miles finally snapped after Mnangagwa announced the fuel price increase.
Civic leaders called for Zimbabweans to stay at home for three days in protest. Other people took to the streets. Some looted, in desperation or anger. The military was called in, and with Mnangagwa overseas, the hard-line former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was left in charge. A crackdown began.
More than 600 people have been arrested, among them a prominent pastor and activist, Evan Mawarire, who has supported peaceful protests on social media and now faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge. More than 400 people have been denied bail, said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. She said she will apply for bail at the High Court Monday. She said described the case against Mawarire as a “travesty of justice.”
Mawarire has called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government acting like that of former leader Mugabe, who stepped down under military pressure in late 2017 and was succeeded by former protege Mnangagwa.
In what critics have called an attempt to cover up abuses, the government in the past few days has imposed an Internet shutdown across the country. On Monday, the High Court will hear a case challenging the Internet restrictions. Although access to the Internet is back, social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are still blocked.
Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, said Mnangagwa’s return “was long overdue, in the first place he was not supposed to travel abroad when the country was burning from the economic and political crisis. ... However, we don’t have confidence that his return will solve anything unless he opens lines of communication. What is needed is political dialogue but Mnangagwa has been avoiding us.”
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference last week lamented the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse, concluding that “our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history.”


Trump urges Venezuela military to back Guaido or ‘lose everything’

Updated 19 min 22 sec ago
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Trump urges Venezuela military to back Guaido or ‘lose everything’

  • ‘The eyes of the entire world are upon you today, every day and every day in the future’
  • ‘You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you’

MIAMI: US President Donald Trump on Monday urged Venezuela’s military to accept opposition leader Juan Guaido’s amnesty offer, or stand to “lose everything,” as a crisis deepened over President Nicolas Maduro’s refusal to let in desperately needed humanitarian aid.
Bringing in humanitarian aid is crucial to the viability of Guaido, who has denounced Maduro’s re-election last year as fraudulent and in January declared himself interim president, a move recognized by some 50 countries.
He has given the Maduro government until Saturday to let shipments of mainly US aid into the country, which is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis due to shortages of food and medicine exacerbated by hyperinflation.
Addressing supporters and Venezuelan expatriates in Miami, Trump said he had a message for officials helping keep Maduro in place.
“The eyes of the entire world are upon you today, every day and every day in the future.
“You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you. You can choose to accept president Guaido’s generous offer of amnesty to live your life in peace with your families and your countrymen.
“Or you can choose the second path: continuing to support Maduro. If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”
Guaido has set a target of signing up to a million volunteers to help bring in the aid, with 600,000 already registered.
“On February 23, we have the opportunity to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans,” he said.
Maduro countered with his own announcement of 300 tons of aid from Russia, which he said would reach Venezuela by Wednesday — three days ahead of a potential showdown brought about by his February 23 deadline.
Speaking at an official event broadcast on TV, Maduro said the shipment contained “high-value medicine.”
Maduro has previously announced the arrival of aid from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
Earlier, opposition officials hit out at state Internet provider CANTV for blocking the website where volunteers are signing up to help bring in the US aid stockpiled in Colombia just over the border from Venezuela.
A second aid collection center is due to begin operations in Brazil’s northeastern state of Roraima, which borders Venezuela. But there is much uncertainty over the aid in Brazil, with officials there saying they have no information at this point.
Military officials in Roraima said they had yet to receive orders, although a collection center could be set up quickly, with some businesses having already provided warehouses to that effect.
A third center is due to open this week on the Dutch island of Curacao, off Venezuela’s north coast.
The humanitarian aid standoff is due to come to a head this weekend, when caravans of buses are set to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo.
It is unclear how Guaido will overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the arrival of the aid to alleviate hardship from an imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country.
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” US Senator Marco Rubio said as he toured the Colombian collection center in Cucuta on Sunday.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday. Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday.
Guaido has ordered the armed forces to let the aid pass, but they remain loyal to Maduro, who has instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food,” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.
The government also said Monday it will stage a concert on the Colombian border the same day Richard Branson has said he will hold one just over the frontier to push for aid to be allowed in. This will unfold on February 22-23.