At least 600 arrested, dozens wounded as economically shattered Zimbabwe teeters on the edge

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zimbabwe woundedAn injured man on a stretcher is loaded into a medical vehicle to be taken to hospital after being being beaten by soldiers in the Sizinda Township, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019. Widespread reports of violence continued as Zimbabwe faced a third day of protests over what has become the world's most expensive gasoline.(AP Photo/KB Mpofu)

  • Security forces loyal to Zimbabwe President Emmanuel Mnangagwa have violently suppressed widespread protests triggered by a massive hike in fuel prices.
  • Zimbabwe police armed with AK-47 rifles detained more than 600 civilians, including pastors, in a brutal crackdown in the economically devastated nation.
  • A doctors' group told the Associated Press it had treated more than 60 gunshot wounds in what it has called a "human-rights crisis."
  • It is the worst violence since August when Mnangagwa was elected.
  • Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said that ZANU PF "thugs" earlier attacked and firebombed, Morgan Tsvangirai House, the party's headquarters in Harare.

Across an economically broken Zimbabwe, AK-47-wielding security forces have been rounding up activists, detaining religious leaders and 'abducting' others amid a fierce crackdown following widespread popular unrest, the Associated Press has reported.

Sparked over the weekend by stunning fuel price hikes, a doctors' group told the AP it has treated dozens of gunshot wounds in a "human-rights crisis."

State security minister Owen Ncube confirmed the arrests on state media and praised security forces for "standing firm" in the face of the deadliest violence since President Emmerson Mnangagwa led his nation's first election without the man who ruled for 38 years, unopposed.

Robert Mugabe - the freedom fighter who became prime minister in 1980 and president in 1987 was deposed in 2017 and the former southern African economic powerhouse had reason to be optimistic.

Then, on the weekend, five months after his election, Mnangagwa imposed a near 140% hike in gas prices and the urban centers from Harare to Bulawayo erupted in protest.

Since then, there has been more than 600 arrests, the AP reports.

But instead of alleviating the stagnant queues of drivers waiting to refuel, the move sparked an almost immediate backlash amid a severe shortage of dollars and daily supplies while devastating inflation hit 31% in November, the highest since 2008.

Soldiers loyal to Mnangagwa conducted a house-to-house search while violently suppressing civilians who have taken to the streets, The Financial Times reported.

Suspected Zanu PF followers attacked Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, headquarters, the Morgan Tsvangirai House, in Harare according to Jacob Mafume MDC National Spokesperson.

"Typical Zanu PF DNA in arson, theft and thuggery," he said.

Just 24 hours later, government forces entered homes in the capital city Harare using an illegal internet shutdown as cover.

Backlash

ZimbabweTOPSHOT - Angry protesters barricade the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township on January 14 2019 after announced a more than hundred percent hike in fuel prices. - Angry protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres and rocks in Zimbabwe on January 14 after the government more than doubled the price of fuel in a bid to improve supplies as the country battles its worst gasoline shortages in a decade.JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

The death toll remains uncertain. Amnesty International reports eight people were killed on Monday when police and military fired into crowds, but Zimbabwe's government offered conflicting death-toll numbers.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa blames the opposition, AP reports, equating the protests with terrorism.

Many were wounded in the ensuing violence as simmering discontent over Zimbabwe's unyielding economic troubles exploded on Tuesday into spontaneous mass demonstrations.

The sudden spike to more than $3 per-litre for fuel would scare people at the best of times. At its worst, it has curdled into frustration as the nations troubled history with currency flared into a new crisis with old results: shortages, unrest and violence.

Security forces clamp down hard on the unrest

zimbabwe copsPolice officers make way for an ambulance by removing stones from a barricade during a 'stay-away' demonstration against the doubling of fuel prices on January 14, 2019 in Emakhandeni township, Bulawayo. - Zimbabwe's President on January 12 announced a more than 100 percent rise in the price of petrol and diesel in a move to improve supplies as the country struggles with its worst fuel shortages in a decade. In the city of Bulawayo, demonstrators attacked minibuses heading to the city centre and used burning tyres and stones to block the main routes into town.ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images

Police fired tear gas and shot live rounds into the crowds of protesters in Harare as opposition organizations called for a three-day national shutdown.

In scenes reminiscent of the unrest that shook Zimbabwe in July, businesses were looted and dozens were injured in the ensuing violence.

Harare was a smoking, deserted city a day after the spreading unrest was curtailed by waves of security forces.

Agence France Presse reporters in Harare described shops closed, minibus services that take Harare's workers to and from the outer suburbs as nowhere to be seen, and a dearth of common essentials from bread to medicine.

The Financial Times reported Mnangagwa is in Russia, seeking loans before a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Associated Press says the hardline former general and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga is leading the government in Mnangagwa's absence.

Just five months ago, Zimbabweans were full of expectation, if not hope. Mnangagwa's succession over Mugabe was supposed to usher in a new Zimbabwe - far from the economic masochism that marked Mugabe and Zimbabwe's economic decline.

Then as the opposition had its Harare headquarters firebombed on Tuesday, Chiwenga unleashed his security forces.

Hundreds have been arrested

Zimbabwe arrestsA policeman stands guard as some of the people arrested during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices, make their court appearance at the magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Jan,16, 2019. Some dozens of people appeared in court and were charged with public violence and a human rights group in Zimbabwe says a few people were killed in clashes between demonstrators protesting fuel hikes and security forces who opened fire on some crowds.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe had no internet access anywhere. Social media, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other communication services were all remotely blacked out.

According to The Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe, a Harare-based nonprofit, an SMS was sent Tuesday, from the Minister of State in the President's Office for National Security issuing a warrant ordering the suspension of all internet services in Zimbabwe.

US Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a joint statement on Wednesday they were "deeply troubled" by the events, adding this is not what the people of Zimbabwe were promised under Mnangagwa.

Pastor Evan Mawarire became a national hero amid the anti-government protests in 2016 that cut short the Mugabe regime.

Pastor Mawarire is taken away
Zimbabwe pastorEvan Mawarire, an activist and pastor who helped mobilize people to protest against the hike in fuel prices, is arrested at his residence in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Mawarire was arrested Wednesday for allegedly inciting violence in the protests against the government's increase in fuel prices.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The religious leader, dressed in yellow, was still clutching his tattered personal Bible when security forces bundled him into the back of a car on Wednesday.

With crippling shortages of US dollars, Zimbabwe's benchmark currency, the African nation remains a victim of corruption, weak governance, black-market trading, stagnant wages and what Chris Mutsvangwa, a one-time backer of the president calls "oligopoly politics."

"This kind of life is unbearable, we have soldiers at fuel queues and now soldiers again are controlling the bread queue," one man told the Associated Press. "Are we at war?"

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