Zimbabwe crackdown intensifies with total internet shutdown

HARARE - Zimbabwe on Friday imposed a "total shutdown" of the internet as international criticism mounted over a ruthless security crackdown after anti-government protests.

Police and soldiers have been accused of indiscriminately dragging people from their homes and beating them.

Hundreds of people have been arrested and doctors say they have treated scores of victims with serious gunshot injuries. 

The United Nations on Friday urged Harare to "stop the crackdown" on protesters, with its human rights office voicing alarm over the security forces' "excessive use of force" which included reports of them using live ammunition.

It urged Zimbabwe's government "to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances".

Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa said fuel prices would double in a country which suffers regular shortages of banknotes, fuel, food and medicine.

"We were served with another directive for the total shutdown of the internet until further notice," said Zimbabwe's biggest mobile operator, Econet, in a text message sent on Friday.

The internet was first cut on Tuesday.

READ: Zim's biggest mobile operator ordered to shut down internet

MDC, the main opposition party, accused the government of trying to suppress information about the security operation, in which between five and 16 people have been killed, activists say. 

Accusing the government of "wanton violence", the party warned that the authorities were "planning on further gross human rights violations under the cover of the communications blackout".

The EU on Thursday joined the US and Britain in criticising the authorities' response to the latest protests. 

"The escalation of violence in Zimbabwe over recent days has been aggravated by the disproportionate use of force by security personnel," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

"The shutdown of access to the internet should also be reversed."

The US embassy in Harare said it was "alarmed by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating political activists and labour leaders".


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