Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa cut short his international trip and returned home Monday, after days of protests left at least 12 people dead in a government crackdown.
Protests broke out last week after Mnangagwa announced a 150 percent hike in fuel prices just before leaving on an overseas fund-raising trip.
As the protests grew, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a former army commander, launched a widespread crackdown that saw security officials shoot demonstrators and drag people from their homes and beat them, human rights activists said.
Last Wednesday, security forces shot and killed five people and wounded 25 others in the capital city, Harare, activists said. A local doctors rights group said it had treated 68 gunshots and scores of cases of assault after Zimbabwe’s security forces broke up protests in Harare and Bulawayo.
Also Monday, police arrested Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President Japhet Moyo as he tried to leave the country. He and another leader of the protests, the Rev. Evan Mawarire, are now facing subversion charges. Another 600 protesters are facing charges of violence.
Morgen Komichi, the vice chairman of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), accused the president of directing his security forces to beat and harass activists and labor leaders involved with the protests.
The government also imposed a total internet blackout to keep protesters from coordinating their rallies. On Monday, Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered officials to restore full internet access, ruling that the Minister of State for Security, who ordered the internet shutdown, does not have power to do so.
The United Nations has called on the government to halt the “excessive use of force” by security forces. But Mnangagwa’s spokesman, George Charamba, told state-controlled media that the government would “not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently.”
“The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come,” Charamba said.