Zimbabwean opposition vows to defy rally ban

Zimbabwe’s main opposition group has said it will hold anti-government protests in the capital Harare, in defiance of a police ban.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has called for mass protests against the government’s handling of the economy.

About five million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid, according to the UN.

The MDC has said it has given the authorities assurances the protests will be peaceful.

But police say they have evidence the protests will be violent.

There is a heavy police presence, but no protesters, in Africa Unity Square where the march was due to begin at 09:00 local time (07:00 GMT).

The MDC’s headquarters are also surrounded by security forces and the city centre is subdued, with most shops closed, it was reported.

A “prohibition notice” banning the demonstrations has been issued by authorities in Harare’s central district, police spokesman Paul Nyathi said.

“The police will be conducting patrols, surveillance, stop-and-searches to ensure law and order is maintained in all areas of the country,” he added.

In response, an MDC official told Reuters news agency that the party was not aware of the prohibition order and the demonstrations would take place as planned.

The official said, given the party had complied with law by notifying police of the protests, it expected them to “ensure there is peace”.

The protests were called to protest at Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation, which has seen power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, rising inflation and the return of the Zimbabwe dollar.

“Life in Zimbabwe today is worse that it was under Robert Mugabe,” MDC politician Fadzayi Mahere told the BBC.

“People are marching against the continued hardship that they face. The cost of living has soared exponentially, we’re back into hyperinflation.”

She said that democratic freedoms were also under threat.

Earlier this week, at least six civil society and opposition members were allegedly abducted and tortured.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum says the victims were accused of mobilising people to demonstrate.

Human rights groups blame state agents for their disappearance, but the authorities have denied their involvement.

The UK and US have expressed concerns about the reports. (BBC)