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Freed Zimbabwe pastor calls for more anti-Mugabe strikes

'Zimbabweans have been remarkably passive (but) driven by and fear of hunger, passivity may be giving way to anger and manifesting itself outside conventional politics,' said John Campbell, an analyst with the council of foreign relations. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Harare, Zimbabwe Jul 14, 2016, 12.48 PM (IST)
The Zimbabwean pastor who has emerged as leader of a new protest movement against President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian government called today for further strikes and shutdowns.

"Tell everyone that you know... tell them that the pastor said we carry on with our 'stay-away' and shutdown," Evan Mawarire said in a Facebook video, the day after a court threw out a case against him of attempting to overthrow the government.

Mawarire, who started the popular ThisFlag internet protest campaign, was one of the organisers of a day-long nationwide strike last week that closed offices, shops, schools and some government departments.

"There is a hope inside you that this country needs, and if you don't get involved, you are robbing us of that hope," he said, wearing the national flag around his neck.

Recent demonstrations, the largest in several years, have been triggered by an economic crisis that has left banks short of cash and the government struggling to pay its workers.

But calls by the ThisFlag movement for another nationwide strike this week fell flat as shops, schools and offices opened as normal across the country.

Home affairs minister Ignatius Chombo had warned that anyone taking part in strikes would face "the full wrath of the law", and in recent days many civil servants were paid their delayed June salaries.

Mugabe, 92 and increasingly frail, has previously used his ruthless security forces to crack down on any public show of dissent during his 36 years in power.

Mawarire was arrested on Tuesday, but released after a magistrate dismissed the case against him.

The judge's surprise decision late Wednesday was greeted as a major victory by anti-government protesters, hundreds of whom had waited, singing and praying, outside the court all day as riot police looked on.

'Repressive police state' 

"Zimbabwe functions as an inefficiently repressive police state, and regime critics 'disappear'," John Campbell, an analyst with the council of foreign relations, said in a note today.

"Zimbabweans have been remarkably passive (but) driven by and fear of hunger, passivity may be giving way to anger and manifesting itself outside conventional politics."

Amnesty has said about 300 people have been arrested for participating in protests around the country since last week.

The surge in demonstrations has revealed long-simmering frustration in a country where 90 per cent of the population is not in formal employment.

Millions have also been left hungry by a collapse in the agriculture sector and a severe drought.

Despite his advanced age and fragile health, Mugabe has refused to step down and has avoided naming an successor.

He still gives fiery 90-minute speeches on his feet, and has vowed to stand again for election in 2018, but his ZANU-PF party is riven with factions jockeying for position.

Regime loyalist Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is viewed as the most likely next leader, with Mugabe's wife Grace, 50, also a possible candidate.

Mugabe easily defeated the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party to win the last election in 2013, in a vote that was described by the United States as not credible.

The previous presidential election in 2008 was marred by widespread violence and intimidation of voters.

Last week, security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse angry protests outside Harare that erupted over police officers allegedly using road blocks to extort cash from motorists.

Television footage showed police beating protesters with sticks.

Other protests have broken out at the border with South Africa over a ban on imports such as canned vegetables, powdered milk and cooking oil.

In April, the MDC held a large rally through central Harare -- the first such protest since 2007 when police beat up party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and supporters who had gathered for a prayer meeting.

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