Soldiers go on rampage in Zimbabwe capital

December 2nd, 2008 - 4:06 am ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg/Harare, Dec 2 (DPA) Mobs of uniformed but unarmed soldiers followed by hundreds of civilians went on the rampage in Harare late Monday in the first serious unrest in Zimbabwe in a decade.Several live rounds were fired as authorities deployed a large force of heavily-armed troops and riot police, and at least one man was reported shot. It was not known whether the shooting was fatal.

Panic ensued as vehicles were stoned, shops looted and their windows smashed as the mobs - some waving the open hand salute of the country’s pro-democracy Movement for Democratic Change - whistled and danced through the city centre.

The force of anti-riot police was swiftly deployed and the mobs dispersed, leaving bricks and stones littering the road.

Observers said the incident underlined the deep discontent within President Robert Mugabe’s 25,000-strong army.

Mugabe’s generals are seen as deeply loyal to the 84-year-old autocrat, but the rank-and-file troops are subject to the hardships ordinary Zimbabweans endure in the country’s rapidly worsening crisis.

Witnesses said the violence broke out when soldiers waiting in bank queues became angry over the failure of the banks to provide them with cash.

The soldiers turned on scores of illegal money changers at a nearby long-distance bus depot, where huge volumes of Zimbabwe dollar currency changes hands for US dollars while banks struggle to find cash for their customers.

The money changers scattered, the witnesses said. Similar incidents on a much lower scale occurred last week, reports here said.

It was the first time that rioting has erupted in Harare since sharp rises in the prices of basic commodities 10 years ago, but observers say it is highly significant that Mugabe had to quell rioting soldiers with other troops.

Witnesses said they saw police assaulting the rioting soldiers with night sticks.

The country is in economic meltdown, with hyperinflation at world record quadrillions, the currency almost valueless, nearly 4 million people facing famine, the country’s urban areas stricken by an unchecked cholera epidemic and services like schools and hospitals shut.

The state of the country’s failure was underlined Monday by the complete breakdown of water supplies to the capital’s estimated 2 million people.

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