HARARE - Zimbabwe has banned protests and deployed soldiers and police to clear the streets of the capital Harare on the eve of planned demonstrations Friday against alleged state corruption and the deteriorating economy.
Police crisscrossed the central business district on Thursday, using loudhailers to order people to stop whatever they were doing and go home.
At checkpoints, busloads of people heading into the city centre were turned back.
By midday, streets were deserted and shops, including large supermarkets, were shuttered ahead of protests that Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe described as "an insurrection".
Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume of Transform Zimbabwe, a small political party, called the protests for Friday, which would mark two years since the disputed election of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Ngarivhume was arrested last week along with a prominent international journalist, Hopewell Chin'ono, and charged with inciting violence.
On Friday, police spokesman Paul Nyathi warned in a statement: "All security arms of government are on full alert and will deal decisively with any individuals or groups fomenting violence and sending threats or provocative messages through social media or any other means."
Government and ruling party officials have denounced the planned protests, with Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa calling them "a violent uprising".
ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa earlier this week claimed that US ambassador Brian Nicholls was sponsoring the protests and called him "a thug".
There has been widespread disillusionment with Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe after a coup in 2017.
He promised to revive the moribund economy, but many Zimbabweans say they are worse off than they were under Mugabe.
The World Food Programme on Thursday warned that some 8.6 million people or 60 percent of Zimbabweans will require food aid as a result of the combined effects of a drought, the economic crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has recorded 2,879 virus cases including 41 deaths.