Mnangagwa returns to Zimbabwe after protest crackdown

President Emmerson Mnangagwa cut short his foreign tour after nationwide protests in Zimbabwe were met with a brutal security crackdown. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Mnangagwa returns to Zimbabwe after protest crackdown

  • ‘I am happy that the country is quiet. Our people should concentrate on their work’
  • Zimbabweans have seen little evidence of the promised economic revival or increased political freedoms

HARARE: Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa has landed back in Harare, state television said Tuesday, after cutting short a foreign tour over nationwide protests that were met with a brutal security crackdown.
Police and soldiers launched a large-scale operation against suspected protesters, activists and organizers of the strike last week, which was triggered by a sharp rise in fuel prices.
At least 12 people were killed and 78 treated for gunshot injuries, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, which recorded more than 240 incidents of assault and torture.
About 700 people have been arrested.
“I am happy that the country is quiet. Our people should concentrate on their work,” Mnangagwa said after landing late on Monday night. “There are channels of communication. We want Zimbabwe developed.”
The High Court in Harare ruled Monday that government had no powers to order the shutdown of the Internet which was imposed as protests swept across the country.
Handing down judgment in a case brought by human rights lawyers and journalists, judge Owen Tagu said “it has become very clear that the minister had no authority to make that directive.”
Internet and social media appeared to be partially returning to normal on Tuesday morning.
Mnangagwa, who was seeking much-needed foreign investment on his tour, scrapped plans to attend the Davos summit of world leaders this week.
He had visited Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan before cutting his trip short.
Mnangagwa, 76, had pledged a fresh start for the country when he came to power in November 2017 after Robert Mugabe was toppled, ending 37 years in office that were marked by authoritarian rule and economic collapse.
But Zimbabweans have seen little evidence of the promised economic revival or increased political freedoms.
The UN human rights’ office criticized the government’s reaction to the protests.
The violent demonstrations erupted on January 14 after Mnangagwa announced petrol prices would more than double in a country that suffers daily shortages of banknotes, fuel, food and medicine.
He flew to Russia soon after making that announcement in a televised address to the nation.
Accused of conducting a deadly crackdown on dissent, the army and police denied any wrongdoing, saying some assailants raiding homes were wearing official uniforms to pose as security personnel.
Mugabe, now 94, ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist from independence from Britain in 1980 until 14 months ago.
The military, fearing that Mugabe’s wife Grace was being lined up to succeed him, seized control and forced him to resign before ushering Mnangagwa to power.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 4 min 4 sec ago
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.