After election violence, Zimbabwe churches urge party leaders to talk peace

The general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches has called for calm after violence yesterday claimed the lives of at least three people in the aftermath of a disputed election.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of Harare today after the clashes that dashed President Emmerson Mnangagwa's hopes of ending Zimbabwe's reputation for political repression. Many shops were closed and the pavements quiet. Several streets were still strewn with rocks and the charred remains of fires. Soldiers loitered at intersections.

ReutersZimbabwean army soldiers patrolled the streets after yesterday's violence.

Speaking on Zimbabwean television, Rev Dr Kenneth Mtata urged the leaders of the ruling Zanu-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change to 'create a space in which all Zimbabweans can come together for meaningful dialogue'.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa has attacked the result of the parliamentary vote, which gave Zanu-PF a clear majority, in a series of tweets alleging vote-rigging and fraud. He tweeted yesterday: 'We have won the popular vote. You voted for total change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your will.'

Mtata said: 'If you are a politician what you work with is the euphoria of your followers and you try to drum up support, and I think this is what we saw.'

He continued: 'When you give the impression that you are automatically going to win, then when the results seem to be coming in a different way, especially when there's a government where there is mistrust of the process, then you are likely to see an explosion like we saw yesterday.'

He said the ZCC was 'trying to engage Mr Chamisa behind the scenes, for him also to contribute to the positive message in public towards peace'.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted this morning that he was calling for an independent investigation into the events of last night. He said: 'It is also more important than ever that we are united, and commit to settling our differences peacefully and respectfully, and within the confines of the law.'

Mnangagwa said: 'We have been in communication with Nelson Chamisa to discuss how to immediately diffuse the situation, and we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear.'

Mtata urged the importance of prayer, saying: 'We are a church, so our starting point is that we constantly pray for peace and we believe that peace is a gift from God. Peace is when we are able to co-exist with difference and we think that this prayer must continue.

'But we need to address some fundamental issues that easily act as a trigger of violence.'

He said: 'We believe that political maturity will require that all political leaders will mobilise their followers for this agenda for peace.'

The deployment of soldiers and their shooting and beating of unarmed protesters is likely to set back efforts to end Zimbabwe's pariah status in the wake of the army's removal of longtime leader Robert Mugabe in a coup last November.

Amnesty International called on the government to launch a prompt investigation into the army's actions.

'It is unfortunate that this election has descended into bloodshed, which could have been avoided if security forces had exercised restraint against protesters,' the London-based human rights organisation said.

It said that by using live ammunition against unarmed protesters, 'the army has broken the very same rule of law that they should protect'.

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